MRI not hit with all

Though The Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees assured the public that leasing a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine is a moneymaking and positive community endeavor, some were not convinced during a meeting Wednesday night.

The Memorial Hospital board members have entered into negotiations to acquire an MRI machine, the Northwest Health Specialists building and other medical equipment owned by the health care clinic. Hospital officials said they could acquire the MRI on a month-to-month lease agreement, with an option to terminate the lease.

In addition to Northwest Health Specialists MRI, a traveling MRI is available in Craig one day a week for doctors to refer patients.

Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps said that revenue from the hospital's own MRI could be about $250,000 a year after all expenses are paid.

That figure is based upon the hospital averaging 59 MRI scans a month (the average number of patients currently using MRI services) and getting reimbursement from insurance companies, Phelps said.

The advantages of purchasing the 3-year-old refurbished General Electric GoldSeal MRI and housing it in the building off Yampa Avenue include: its full-time availability, increased revenue for the hospital and additional space for hospital needs, Phelps said.

The disadvantages are that the machine wouldn't be housed at the hospital and that purchasing the MRI may lead to the perception that the hospital is competing with other clinics, Phelps said.

"The hospital gets better reimbursement than (small health care clinics)," he said.

"We could be the only operation in Craig that could make it work."

Phelps said that because the hospital is a critical care facility, it receives more money from insurance than smaller-scale health care facilities

But Craig neurologist Pam Kinder questioned the priority of an MRI when doctors have expressed needs for other medical equipment and why board members are willing to enter into a "complicated" process to purchase an MRI, when the service is already available.

"The hospital puts out little to no money to do this now," she said. "I really don't understand why you want to create this entire situation."

Board chairwoman Sue Lyster responded that if the board thought the venture wouldn't make money, it would halt negotiations. Having an MRI at the hospital would be good for the community; and the earned revenue could go toward a new hospital, she said.

"It's a matter of giving the bottom line back to the community or giving to the insurance companies," she said.

A memo signed by seven doctors, including Kinder, was given to the board to request that confidentiality requirements be terminated on "acquistion of medical equipment recently taken by the Board of The Memorial Hospital."

Kinder pressed the board to explain how it would staff the machine and who would be responsible for interpreting the images for local physicians. With the mobile MRI machine, a doctor from TMH looks at the scans and "reads" them.

Board members Don Myers conceded that it was an important point and that the board would have to look closely at such details and try to reach a compromise that satisfied as many people as possible before making a decision.

Still, Kinder expressed frustration that the board seemed intent on making the MRI deal happen without considering previous discussions about the viability of an MRI.

"They make it sound like we've never looked into having an MRI before, but we have. Every year when the mobile contract comes up for renewal, we address the question of whether we could afford to have an MRI on site. And the answer was always no."

But the lease affords the hospital an inexpensive turnkey solution, Lyster said, allowing the hospital to step into a revenue-generating situation without expending a lot of money up front. She agreed the hospital could never afford to buy a brand-new MRI machine, which is exactly why this deal holds such promise.

If we were going to proceed with this negotiation, it appears to me that the hospital is in a prime position to negotiate this price to rock bottom and it disturbs me that they aren't doing that," Kinder said.

Lyster, responding to questions from Patty Askew, said both the machine and the building had undergone appraisals that were used to determine a starting point for the negotiations.

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