"At any time, you, your spouse, your child, your sister, brother, any family member may require this equipment. To have it in our own city would be helping 75,000 people living in southeast Saskatchewan. [It] would improve wait times, not just here, but across the whole province. Our healthcare needs this MRI. Ask any person who is waiting for one. They'll tell you how much they want it done for their diagnosis." 

Elaine Walkom dedicated $2 million to help bring MRI services to southeast Saskatchewan. After many hurdles and setbacks, she's collaborating with the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation to inch the project closer to becoming a reality. In an interview with DiscoverEstevan, she emphasized the need to have MRI services nearby. 

"Every person here drives at least two hours to get an MRI. Those living in Gainsborough or the Carnduff areas drive three to four hours. The MRI will provide closer and quicker access to those in our area. Less miles equals less stress, equals quicker diagnosis - and I think that's important for everybody. It will also lessen the burden and the weight times of the other Saskatchewan MRI's."

According to Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), an MRI is used to find problems such as tumours, bleeding, injury, blood vessel diseases, or infection. For a public option, if a patient needs MRI scans in Saskatchewan, there are only three cities in the whole province that can provide the service: Moose Jaw, Regina and Saskatoon. There are private clinics that can provide the procedure, but they're also located in Regina and Saskatoon. 

"Driving to Regina, Saskatoon or Moose Jaw for an MRI employs a lot of hardship for people. Weather conditions, road conditions, finding a driver if you're not able to, the expensive hotel rooms, meals and gas - that's a real that's a big financial burden for a lot of people," Walkom added. 

For some, that's the best-case scenario. Walkom shared that she's heard from patients who have travelled out-of-province and at times in the United States to receive the diagnosis. Waiting for an MRI slot to open up in the province has been close to becoming out of reach for many patients. SHA estimates that in the first quarter of 2024, the wait was close to 264 days for an appointment. Walkom noted that some patients she's talked to have waited years. 

Her motivation to help fund this project isn't just to help bolster the medical community in Estevan. She wanted to dedicate her donation to her late husband, Grant. 

"I wanted a legacy for my husband, Grant. He was a kind, generous, hard-working man. He died from cancer in 2017, so we certainly had our share of MRI's, travel and stress that many people people are facing as we speak. This donation is to say thank you to all the people and all the companies that supported Hank's [Maintenance] and made our business successful. Without that success, this donation wouldn't be possible. So Grant would be 100% behind this donation to make people's lives easier and make medical help more accessible for everyone."

It's no secret that there's also a shortage of medical staff in southeast Saskatchewan. Walkom believes when the MRI arrives in Estevan, it'll have a 'trickle-down effect' and entice more doctors and other professionals to practice in Estevan. 

"I think the hospital for does a good job for what it has to deal with. We may be able to bring in more doctors if we have this equipment, more technicians, more help with everything and maybe our doctors would stay longer. You know, lots of people get attached to a doctor...and they're gone. Then, they have to find another one. We're on a real doctor shortage right now." 

The full funding goal is set for $6.5 million. This includes the cost of the MRI machine, construction, staffing and training. The proposal, including the breakdown of the expenses and the average wait times in the southeast health division, can be found here.

The St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, alongside Sun102, Country 106.1 and CJ1150, is proud to hold the Radiothon for Life on June 5th. Help raise funds to bring MRI services to Estevan and Southeast Saskatchewan. Learn more about the project at https://www.radiothonforlife.com/ and give today!