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Workers move the MRI machine into Essentia St. Mary's Hospital. DETROIT LAKES NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Essentia St. Mary's imaging dept. gets a lift

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Soon patients at Essentia Health St. Mary’s will have a warmer and more convenient trip to have MRIs and CT scans.

On Monday, the hospital installed a new MRI machine as part of renovations and updates to the facility. The hospital has been utilizing a portable unit for the past 10 years.

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Staff members and personnel stood and watched as crews lowered the giant 12,000-pound magnet near the building. It was a big moment for some.

“This has been a huge undertaking. You don’t just build a room with four walls,” Imaging Department Manager Connie Kovala said.

To support the machine, extra precaution had to be taken for the floor, air handling, electrical and more. And that doesn’t even include the magnetic force to be reckoned with.

Kovala said at one meeting they must have discussed for half an hour the type of screws that could be used in the drywall. The handles on the cupboards had to be MRI compatible. Every last detail has to be planned and thought out when it comes to housing an MRI machine.

“By far, this has been the most complicated (part of the project) just because of the magnet,” she said.

But after the machine was wheeled slowly into the room Monday, crews then sealed up a temporary wall that had been waiting for the large piece of equipment.

There will still be a few patients who won’t be able to use the MRI machine. Kovala said that Detroit Lakes will not be able to scan people with pacemakers because the MRI machine will throw off the pacemakers. Those patients will have to travel to Fargo for MRIs because they are better equipped for that situation.

But for those using the MRI machine, prepare to stay indoors. For the past decade, patients and staff have had to go outside – in all weather conditions – in order to get the scans they needed. Everything is now connected and under one roof.

Besides an MRI machine, the newly remodeled imaging department will also include a new CT scanner and two imagining suites. The new CT scanner is upgraded from a 16-slice scanner to an 80-slice scanner.

The CT scanner will be up and running within a couple weeks, and the MRI scanner will be ready for patient use in mid-February after calibration and training on the machine has been completed.

“Basically we have a whole new imaging department,” St. Mary’s President Peter Jacobson said. “This will be much more convenient for patients. We have a great staff and quality studies, it’s just not the environment they needed.”

Now they will have direct access through the clinic.

“It was a safety issue just taking them outside,” Kovala said.

“This is a huge step for us here,” she added. “This shows our commitment to the community.”

The equipment alone was $1 million, she said. But patients need not worry that costs will be pushed onto them. She said that the clinic is regulated on what they can bill patients, and that does not include paying for equipment like the new CT and MRI scanners.

One major plus during all the construction is that the clinic and hospital have been able to continue using the existing scanner in the portable unit until the new ones are installed, so there has been no pause in imaging services.

“We have been able to keep our units going while this is going on,” Jacobson said of the construction.

The first phase of the St. Mary’s project started a couple years ago with the renovation of the clinic, entryway and parking lot. The last phase of the project includes upgrades to the emergency department, which will begin in the next few months.

Almost 12,000 square feet of new or remodeled patient care space will be completed in this project.

Construction and equipment costs for the entire project total almost $5 million. Jacobson said that the St. Mary’s Foundation has raised about $900,000 for the Imaging and Emergency Department project, and $1.5 million is its goal.

“The foundation has done a nice job,” he added.

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