MRI machine coming to Nome
By the end of October 2018 the Norton Sound Health Corporation will have an MRI machine up and running in Nome. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI for short, is an imaging technique, which creates pictures of the patient’s anatomy and physiological processes by the use of magnetic fields, radio waves and field gradients. No X-Rays are involved so the body is not subjected to potentially damaging ionization radiation.
“It is the first one that is going to be this far north and this far west,” said Catherine DeAngelis, NSHC’s radiology manager.
Patients from the region, who require an MRI currently need to travel to Anchorage. Although there are a number of the machines in Anchorage hospitals, they are heavily used and appointments must be made long in advance.
“Alaska Native Medical Center has one, but the wait time for our tribal members has been six to nine months,” said Angie Gorn, CEO of NSHC. “It depends on the condition. But if it’s considered non-emergent by them, the patients are having to wait that long for the procedure.”
The long wait for an MRI appointment is one issue that will be resolved by having the apparatus in Nome, but it is not the only consideration. Organizing a trip to the big city for the patient and an escort is complicated and expensive.
“This one is actually driven by the board,” said DeAngelis. “They are concerned about the wait time and they are also concerned about the travel time. Not only the travel time for the patient, but for the escorts who go with them. It is a lot to ask people to stop their lives and travel that far. Coming into Nome is enough if you’re coming from one of the villages. But then having to take another flight to Anchorage is another story.”
“Over the course of this year, our board is holding listening sessions with all the tribes,” said CEO Gorn. “We’ve heard from them how challenging it is for people just to travel to Anchorage for care that we can’t provide locally. All the issues. Hotels may not be the quality they would expect them to be. Getting from point A to point B, the frustration with meals. So, our goal is to provide everything locally if we can do it. There’s obviously some stuff we can’t provide. But we’ve tried really hard with this new facility to expand services.”
The ability to look into the body and create images of the organs as they function is useful over a broad range of medical specialties. That the procedure has no harmful side effects, as X-rays might have, is a bonus.
The MRI machine will create jobs for radiological technologists, called rad techs for short. There are two and four year programs, both available in Anchorage.
“It’s a great opportunity for village youth if they are willing to go out of their home and go to Anchorage for school. We’d like to hire more people who are from this area. That would be my main goal. I’d like to hire people from here who live here and are already comfortable with the environment,” said Gorn.
“All of the reading of our images is provided for us through a company called Imaging Associates,” said DeAngelis. “They are based in Anchorage and are the same group that reads for Providence. The name of the parent company is Alaska Radiology Associates. They are an excellent group of radiologists.”
The space for the new MRI machine is now under construction behind the hospital’s emergency room.
While building materials will come up by barge, the actual machine will arrive by air. General Electric, the manufacturer, will assemble it all. The keys are to be handed over to NSHC on October 19, 2018.