Following the announcement of the Portage District General Hospital Foundation's offering of $5M to an MRI unit in the new hospital, Portage MLA Jeff Bereza is ecstatic.  

"This is unbelievable. This is awesome. I don't know what other words can describe it," says Bereza. "The Portage Hospital Foundation and the people of Portage la Prairie who have put money toward the foundation, they're going to be super proud and super pumped up about this thing. We know that we're not done. We're on our way. Let's be honest here. This MRI is very, very much needed here. There are 21,245 people as of the end of March of this year that are waiting for an MRI." 

He explains another MRI in Portage is going to make the difference between life or death to some of those people. Bereza says the Portage Hospital Foundation is part of the solution here and I it just speaks to what our city is all about.

"If they think it's a project worthwhile, they're going all in, and the Portage Hospital Foundation  has gone all in on this project. I know a number of the people on the board and I couldn't be more proud of them." 

Having started a petition for the province to change their decision on not providing an MRI here, with the Foundation stepping up to pay for one apart from that effort. We asked Bereza the possible ramifications of that. He explains the unit will be more than $5,000,000. 

"The government has to be involved in that, as well. The thing is that timing is so critical on this. We're in the building stage right now and it will never be cheaper to put this MRI into this building than it is right now. Now is the time to go ahead with this and especially with speaking to the doctors. I had the opportunity to sit down with the doctors who sent me a letter, and I believe it was 35 or 36 of them who signed the letter about the need for an MRI. They see things differently and they brought me some information that I didn't have in the past when I was running for MLA. I thought there was only 3,000 scans being done here, and the province says we can't do that. That's correct. It's 3,000 scans right now, but that's up over 50 per cent of the amount of scans that were there last year. That doesn't include the people who are marginalized, that may not be able to get there, who miss appointments and don't have transportation to get there. Or they have other barriers in order for them not to get there."

He says Portage is on the #1 highway right in the middle of the province. Bereza says this means we couldn't be better situated for these people.

"If I just look at Grace Hospital, which is 76 kilometres (45 minutes) from the Portage hospital, right now it's a 29-week wait for MRI appointments. Yet the doctors out here are telling me that a lot of their patients are coming from the Headingley and Oak Bluff area, which would make their hospital the Grace Hospital. Realistically, we should be able to reduce some of the wait times for some of these other MRI machines in Manitoba." 

Shared Health sent an outline for their reasons to not include an MRI in the new facility.

Their explanation is as follows:

"Shared Health Diagnostic Services and the Manitoba government have consistently confirmed that specialized Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) equipment is not included in the plan for the new hospital in Portage la Prairie.

"The location of specific diagnostic imaging equipment in Manitoba is based on a combination of factors, including population and patient needs, the location of other diagnostic equipment in nearby communities, and the ability of staff to maintain their clinical competencies working in a particular location.

"During the planning stage leading up to the 2021 announcement of the new hospital, provincial analysis by Shared Health Diagnostic Services showed the imaging equipment requirements of the community would not be sufficient to support the addition of an MRI machine. Presently, the situation remains the same. The current number of patients requiring MRIs in the Portage la Prairie area would only support an approximate 50 per cent usage rate of an MRI machine and the related necessary staff. Shared Health Diagnostic Services has determined that this utilization level does not support a clinical need for MRI services in Portage la Prairie.

"The new hospital in Portage la Prairie will include many other diagnostic services including equipment and staff to perform CT scans, x-rays and fluoroscopies, while existing MRI units near to Portage la Prairie will continue to be available for area residents.

"We do value the engagement and efforts of the community and look forward to continuing to work with the community and our partners to ensure the health needs of everyone in and around Portage are met, and as close to home as possible. This includes a continual evaluation of diagnostic needs and services in Portage la Prairie and across the province."

Bereza notes Shared Health provided the same things that I had learned before where there was only 3,000 scans being done out of this area.

"That information is correct, but what's not correct, and unfortunately nobody has this data, is the amount of people who are missing appointments or can't get to appointments, for whatever the reason. I had a person with whom I had breakfast last week and are having some issues with blacking out. Their MRI Scan is scheduled for September of 2025. So again, the length of time ... These MRI machines and some of the diagnostic equipment are actually for early detection. It should be cheaper on the health system, but again, getting back to the information that we learned, it doesn't take into account people who may not be able to get to an appointment."

He cites as Dakota Plains First Nation as an example, where he recently paid a visit, and saw the extremely wet conditions that would prohibit someone from that community to be able to get through and make an appointment in Winnipeg.

"A person in Amaranth who may have to go to an appointment at Boundary Trails must make a 5-hour turn around. If that person doesn't have a vehicle, doesn't have a transportation, leaving them to pay for transportation. What's the easy way out? They'll just miss the appointment. The other side of the coin is, Portage la Prairie is on a double-lane highway. If we have to go down to Morden or up to Dauphin, that's two-lane highway driving. I had another person who ran into me and said that his appointment was seven months out. He goes to his appointment, it's in the winter time, and highways closed. So, he misses his appointment, which wouldn't be counted in their statistics."

Bereza says all of these obstacles would not be there if we had an MRI here.

"You miss your appointment and you have to wait another five months. We're not disputing the numbers that the diagnostic people have given, but there are other factors out there that they're not taking into consideration, which have to be considered. The most prevalent one that I see out there is over 21,000 people in Manitoba waiting for an MRI. If we put an MRI in Portage la Prairie, that will cut down on some of those wait times." 

Bereza adds they've heard that it's not so much of the cost of the MRI that is the problem, but the number of technicians required to run it. 

"We do know that we have had people who have said to the doctors, 'If there is an MRI coming into Portage, we'd like to be trained to go on that.'  We know that we've got people like that. I've also had a doctor reach out to me from Winnipeg who is is currently involved in the radiology program, which reads the MRI's. He said, Portage la Prairie would be a pretty cool place to come and live in. So, you know, it's not just about the machine, it about how it fits into the building. The building is being built right now. There's not a better time. We If we build it, they will come! I think that's important about the MRI."