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Hospital to get MRI

Whitehorse General Hospital is getting its own Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner. It will be the first hospital North of 60 to get an MRI. The scanner doesn't come cheap.

Whitehorse General Hospital is getting its own Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner.

It will be the first hospital North of 60 to get an MRI.

The scanner doesn’t come cheap. The Yukon Hospital Foundation has been busy fundraising since 2010.

Its goal was to raise $2 million in three years. The Yukon government has pledged to match those funds.

But the foundation was able to get it done in just two years, and last Saturday the government presented the foundation with a cheque for an additional $2 million.

“I think that we really need to step back and really realize what an accomplishment this is for a territory and for a city like Whitehorse,” said Premier Darrell Pasloski.

For such a small population, to raise so much money, in such a short period of time is especially impressive, he said.

“It’s really, to me, quite an astounding feat and makes me feel so proud to be a Yukoner,” said Pasloski.

An MRI uses powerful magnets to induce a magnetic field in the atoms of a patient’s body. That magnetic field is recorded by the scanner and used to construct an image of a person’s internal workings.

Unlike an X-ray or CT scan, an MRI does not use ionizing radiation and is able to give a much more detailed look at soft tissues like organs and ligaments.

MRI scans are used to diagnose everything from cancer to joint injuries.

Every year the government pays for 500 Yukoners to get an MRI in a southern hospital.

If it’s a serious problem like a brain tumour the patient is medevaced out right away. But for non-urgent things like bad knees the wait time can be as much as six months, said Val Pike, spokesperson for the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

It’s likely that there are even more Yukoners travelling south to get a scan, because the government’s statistics don’t include residents who pay for an MRI out of their own pockets.

Once the scanner gets up and running, the prediction is that the government will save a lot of money on travel expenses and that wait times will be significantly reduced.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll have the lowest wait time in the country,” said Pasloski.

Instead of people travelling out of the territory to get an MRI, the Yukon could soon see people travelling here to get one, he added.

“There might also be an opportunity for some medical tourism as well from other jurisdictions, perhaps from Alaska,” said Pasloski.

That would mean revenue for the hospital.

“I would never say never to anything like that,” said Pike.

Having an MRI here in the Yukon won’t just attract medical tourists, but doctors as well.

It will do a lot for helping to attract and retain physicians, said Pike.

“When they hear we have like a CT scanner, and now and an MRI, that just opens the door to huge potential for recruiting more and more health-care professionals, because it says a lot about your facility when you have those kinds of state-of-the-art things here,” she said. “It’s going to be a huge benefit to us.”

The hospital is still months away from getting the MRI set up. It still needs to pick out a machine, although it did just send a delegation of hospital staff to a radiology conference in Chicago to check out some manufacturers.

Once the hospital picks one out, it then has to find a place for it. The powerful magnetic field the scanner generates means the machine has to be housed in a specially shielded room.

Space at the Yukon General Hospital is at a premium right now, so finding a place to put it is going to be a challenge, said Pike.

“You can’t just simply plop it on the front lawn outside, and we’re full to the brim here,” she said.

So the hospital won’t find a MRI waiting under its Christmas tree this year, but it’s definitely on its way.

“Having the money is awesome,” said Pike. “Now we have to pull together everything else.”

Contact Josh Kerr at