The largest build that Southern Health-Santé Sud has ever engaged in continues with the construction of the new Portage District General Hospital.  While the building will include many new things, one that is not in the current plans is a permanent MRI unit. 

No small discussions have been made to express the feelings held in Portage who note that now is the time to successfully lobby to see a permanent MRI unit put in plans for the facility. The space is in the designs. The wired-in power is all in the plans to operate such a unit in that space. Thousands of names have also been added to a petition including those as far away as Winnipeg, and as many opportunities as possible have been dedicated to raise the issue in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. Many physicians in Portage la Prairie also think this should not even be a question.

All that's left is the province's go-ahead.

One of the 35 doctors in Portage la Prairie who signed an open letter to Premier Wab Kinew was Dr. Braden Arbuckle, who was actually noted at the top of the list.

Dr. Arbuckle's personal views, which don't necessarily represent the views of the Portage Clinic, are presented to indicate that his sole purpose is to advocate for the needs of the community in which he works. At the same time, he insists on steering clear of any politics.

"Through numerous meetings, a number of valid points were brought up by the Shared Health Diagnostic Imaging team as to why now was not the right time for Portage to get an MRI. Some of these included that our current and forecasted MRI numbers are insufficient to justify the cost. Furthermore, without enough scans this can affect technician competency, recruitment and retention, and ultimately patient care. Even with our suggestions of having Portage as a hub and spoke model, where we serve as a central location for surrounding areas and route flights from Northern Manitoba through Southport, our projected numbers would still be insufficient.”

He adds, from the practising physician perspective, he wholeheartedly feels an MRI unit is required here. 

“I was quite disappointed by this decision, however, I do understand that healthcare dollars are finite and that hard lines need to be drawn, as they are trying to do what is best for all patients in Manitoba. While I certainly respect Shared Health’s current decision, my hope is that we can continue these conversations, and as our community grows, we can one day have a permanent MRI machine.”

Discussions have been made, as reported in previous PortageOnline reports, that distance plays a foreboding role among more distant rural areas and First Nations reserves, for the safety and well-being of patients who require an MRI.  Dr. Arbuckle says this is precisely the case.

“A key benefit of having MRI services in Portage la Prairie is the improved access for underserved populations. Indigenous communities often face healthcare disparities, and a local MRI service would significantly improve access to diagnostic imaging, leading to better health outcomes. Similarly, the elderly population, who may have difficulty travelling long distances, would benefit greatly from local services. Reducing travel time and associated costs can alleviate some of the burdens on these populations, making healthcare more accessible and equitable.”

Dr. Arbuckle weighs in on the possibility of a portable MRI as an alternative.

"Unfortunately, a portable MRI machine would not solve any long-term problems, as the demand and need for the MRI scanner is constant and not seasonal.”

Dr. Arbuckle concludes with, “Introducing MRI services in Portage is a vital step toward improving healthcare access and outcomes for the community. By focusing on technician recruitment and retention, and ensuring the maintenance of proficiency through adequate scan volumes, I feel our facility can one day provide high-quality care. The benefits would extend beyond health, contributing to economic growth and social equity, particularly for underserved populations like Indigenous communities and the elderly. Establishing this service locally represents an investment in the community’s health and well-being, fostering a healthier, more inclusive future for all residents. Myself and my colleagues will continue to strive to advocate for our community and will continue to have these conversations with Shared Health.”