Crews are putting the finishing touches on a new addition at the hospital in Dauphin, Man., to house an MRI machine.
But residents in the western Manitoba city, located about 250 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, will have to wait until at least later this year to find out if the machine will, in fact, be installed.
The province has put the project on hold, even though the city had expected the MRI to be in use later this month, and that has local officials frustrated.
"We're pretty disappointed about that," said Dauphin Mayor Eric Irwin. "It was going to be the first MRI in Manitoba that was going to be installed north of the Number 1 highway."
The previous NDP government promised an MRI for the city in 2013. It was expected to make 3,750 scans per year — scans that patients could now have done closer to home instead of travelling to Brandon or Winnipeg, sometimes requiring an overnight trip.
Irwin said it was supposed to be in use later this month. But now the entire project is now under review.
"The Wait Times Task Force is currently examining priority procedures like MRIs and their findings will inform us how the system is best structured," said Amy McGuinness, a press secretary for the Manitoba government.
"We are awaiting the task force's recommendations before proceeding with the installation of an MRI in Dauphin."
Meanwhile, the building specifically constructed for the MRI is nearly complete and Irwin said staff have already been trained. All that's needed now is the machine itself.
"We're told that the machine has been purchased and it's sitting in Germany, and it's a mater of bringing it over and installing it," he said.
"If it were brought over and put somewhere else I think that's not the kind of message people here want to hear with respect to their health."
The machine was expected to service a catchment area of about 50,000 people, Irwin said. In addition to people around Dauphin, rural residents as far north as The Pas were expected to take advantage of the closer machine.
More puzzling, Irwin said the government's message now is in direct contrast to what he was told during the election campaign.
"I got a letter from [Brian] Pallister during the election campaign lamenting the fact that this MRI hadn't been installed to date ... and expressing concern that people in our region had to travel long distances in inclement weather in order to have their diagnosis," Irwin said.
"It seemed, certainly at that time, that Mr. Pallister and his team were on side with all of the reasons and arguments that caused this facility to be built here in the first place," he added.
Health foundation shares concern
Doug Dean, president of the local health foundation, shared similar sentiments.
"It's quite a concern to all of the citizens of the city of Dauphin," he said. "We were advised by the previous government that the MRI is a go."
Dean said he knows of one person who took time off work last summer to leave the city for training to use the machine. Not installing it could mean that training goes to waste, he said.
The foundation, which also helps recruit medical professionals, was banking on the machine to attract more professionals to Dauphin. He also questioned what the hospital would do with the specialized building and space if not used for an MRI.
"It would be a very expensive storage room," Dean said.
Health benefits important: mayor
While it may bring jobs to the region, Irwin said the health benefits are more important to him.
"Everyone talks in cancer [care] about early diagnosis," he said. "This gives more people the opportunity for an early diagnosis.
"It is just a crying shame when you go through the obituaries," Irwin said.
Irwin said he understands the government needs to deal with falling revenues, but that everyone is better off if people can have a better quality of life or a fighting chance with diseases like cancer.
Irwin said he hasn't given up on the machine yet and hopes the province decides the MRI for Dauphin is worth the investment.
"Expect nothing and you'll never be disappointed, I guess," he said.
McGuinness said the findings of the review are expected later this year.
The planned reconstruction of the hospital's emergency room is still going ahead as planned.