'Of course it's happening': Manitobans who've paid for MRIs not surprised some are jumping the queue

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Health minister thankful for semi-private MRI clinic proposal in Niverville

One Winnipeg man says he wasn't at all surprised by Thursday's report from the auditor general, who found that sports stars and health-care workers sometimes jump MRI queues.

"I'm not surprised, because I could have written that report. Because of course it's happening," said Barry Janzen.

The report said Manitobans' average wait time for an MRI is now 23 weeks, partly because some people — such as professional athletes and government officials — are given faster service. 

"On average, members of professional sports teams received MRI scans within a day of referral. And some patients with influence — such as government officials, donors or people working in the health care system — received quick scans, often the same or next day and without any priority code assigned to their request forms," Auditor General Norm Ricard wrote in his 43-page report.

Last year, Janzen went to the United States to undergo an MRI, after being told he'd have to wait five months.

"They used some scary terms, and it seemed like it was best addressed quickly," he said of his neck injury. An MRI was needed before they could decide about surgery.

He said he was told he was put on the rush list, which netted a five-month wait. 

"Boy, for a rush, that sure doesn't sound like [a rush.]" 

Janzen's neurologist gave him a card for a private MRI company and told him that the majority of his patients end up going south. 

So he drove "eight minutes across the border" to Pembina, N.D., to a trailer.

"I was there for like, 15 minutes. I was probably four hours, 3½ hours out of my home to back to my home, had an MRI, cost me $375 US or whatever … and done." 

Janzen said he believes getting his MRI sooner helped to get his surgery sped up. He wrote a letter to Manitoba's health minister to put on pressure for treatment in a reasonable time frame.

But he'd heard rumours about a two-tier system for MRIs all the way back to the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 from years ago

"You can't tell me there isn't a two-tier system, there [has] been for decades, because he didn't wait in line behind me." 

He also had a friend involved in health care offer to help him with his wait-time woes. 

"That's great because I need it, but that's also bullshit," he said.

"Because what if I'm an old lady and I don't know anybody? What if I'm a disadvantaged person? What if I just moved? What if anything, except that I know somebody who might get me in to cut the line? It just doesn't make sense." 

He added, "It's only great in one case, when you need it. Other than that, it's like, that's not fair at all." 

Janzen said it's already a two-tiered system, so the province should allow private MRIs and clear the people who want to pay out of the queue for those who can't afford it. 

"It's not a lot of money, but it's a lot of money to a lot of people. So, OK, enough people would say, 'I'll be in that line, and you can stay in this line,' and all of a sudden the line the people who can't afford it are in is two weeks long," he said. 

"When they can afford that, that means you get way closer to the front of your line. Way closer. As if that doesn't exist already. Set it up!" 

Thankful for early U.S. diagnosis

Lisa Prost's mother, Elizabeth Balagus, was also given a five-month "emergency" MRI date. 

Over two months, she watched as her once-healthy mother suddenly lost weight. In November 2008, they ended up in the ER and were told to come for a scan in April. 

"We waited 10 hours, and the last thing that was told to us was, 'We are not doing the MRI, it's a waste of time and money, your mother does not have cancer."

Instead, they called the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, got an appointment within 47 hours, headed to Rochester, Minn., a week later and got a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer within 16 hours.

Prost credited the quick diagnosis with helping her mother live comfortably until the very end. 

"She lived a pretty good life for a year and a half," Prost said.

Prost said it's "pathetic" that some people in Manitoba jump in the line.

"People jumping in because they've got that money, or they're an athlete, or because they entertain, and that's what people want, is that right? No, that's not right."

"I just don't trust it," she said. "I don't trust the medical system, unfortunately."