Up and running

PRH medical imaging technologist Shawn Kisch demonstrates the abilities of the new permanent MRI on test patient Nadia Wojcik.

It was a bit of an understatement when Interior Health announced in August that the new permanent MRI machine at Penticton Regional Hospital was almost four months’ late going into service due to a problem with “flooring.”

In fact, on March 16 a water leak flooded the room in the new David Kampe Tower in which the brand new machine had been installed. The fix required the suite to be gutted and rebuilt, while the building contractor had to hire a mobile MRI unit from the U.S.

Details of the mishap were shared with Kampe, who contributed $3 million towards the machine and suite before he died May 8, according to Interior Health documents obtained by The Herald through a freedom of information request.

Following the leak, which stemmed from a faulty valve in a nearby room, test holes drilled in the MRI suite determined water had gotten under the flooring.

“MRI procedure rooms are built with copper shielding surrounding the floors, walls and ceiling in order to contain the magnetic imaging,” David Fowler, Interior Health’s director of major capital redevelopment, said in a statement.

“The copper shielding is not available in Penticton so sourcing material took some time, as did the extent of the repair, including removing and re-installing the MRI machine.”

Once the four-ton MRI machine was back in place, it then required fresh approval for use from the B.C. Diagnostic Accreditation Program, further delaying startup.

In the meantime, EllisDon, the company hired to build the new David Kampe Tower as a public-private partnership, hired a mobile MRI machine from the U.S. to fill the gap.

The company did so under the threat of a financial penalty that would have been in effect as of the tower’s opening on April 29. But the penalty amount is not clear from publicly available contract documents and Interior Health refused to provide it.

“We wouldn’t speculate on a penalty that was not considered,” spokeswoman Susan Duncan said in an email.

EllisDon spokesman Dustin Luchka was unable to say Thursday what the machine cost to rent, but said the incident highlights how P3 agreements off-load risk to the private sector.

Such mobile MRI machines cost in the range of $14,000 per month to rent from Sound Imaging, a company based in San Diego.

The FOI documents suggest EllisDon relied on its own construction insurance to cover all of the expenses associated with the leak, but Luchka couldn’t confirm that either.

Meanwhile, the 600 patients who were booked for an MRI scan in the new tower through July had their appointments rescheduled, and 650 of them were eventually scanned in the temporary machine.

The new permanent MRI machine finally saw its first patient Aug. 6.

Interior Health marked the occasion with a press release that stated simply the service was delayed “due to issues with the flooring of the MRI suite.”

It went on to note: “Patients from across the South Okanagan-Similkameen will benefit from this enhanced local service, with the number of scans performed in Penticton expected to increase to 5,000-plus scans each year once the service is fully operational.

“As local capacity builds, patients will see shorter waits and receive earlier diagnoses for a variety of medical conditions.”

The MRI machine, a Siemens Sola, is the latest model available and the first of its kind to be installed in Canada.

Interior Health performed 27,219 scans across the region in 2018-19, up 20,726 in 2017-18.