JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
NIAGARA FALLS – A critical piece of medical equipment at Greater Niagara General hospital on Niagara Falls is on life support. And now hospital officials are hoping the public will help come to its aid.
The GNGH Foundation is about to embark on a major fundraising campaign to replace the limping CT scanner. The situation is so serious that the diagnostic machine has jumped to the top of the queue of the hospital’s many equipment needs.
“It’s urgent and critical,” said Foundation Chairwoman Ruth-Ann Nieuwesteeg. “We’ve been told the scanner we have now is breaking down too much. It’s old and it needs to be replaced. This is a basic and crucial piece of equipment. We need a new one as soon as possible.”
The hospital’s CT scanner has been out of service twice this year. While it’s up and running now, Niagara Health System officials say its time a replacement machine is purchased and installed – something that’s expected to cost around $2.4 million. Governments do not pay for equipment needs. That kind of funding has to be raised locally, which is the job of hospital foundations.
“It’s such an important piece of equipment,” said Bonnie Sipos, regional director of diagnostics at the NHS.
CT stands for “computed tomography.” The machine is sometimes called a CAT (computed axial tomography) scanner. The CT scanner uses a computer and X-rays to create a two-dimensional cross-sectional images of the body. The painless procedure is used to help diagnosis illness and injury in both in-patients and out-patients. It’s considered an essential diagnostic tool for emergency care.
Niagara has three hospitals with emergency departments – GNGH, St. Catharines General and Welland County General. Each of these hospitals is equipped with a single CT scanner.
While each CT scanner is important, the one at GNGH is even more so since it supports the regional stroke centre located there.
The CT scanner at GNGH came into service in March 2005.
In June and again in August of this year, the machine broke down and was out of service for a period of time for repairs. Officials say locating parts for the current unit is becoming difficult and time consuming.
“That’s when we decided we need to replace it,” Sipos said. “The unit still does good CTs, but it’s getting old.”
The CT scanner is so important that the NHS relies on a special protocol that’s put into effect when the machine goes down. In some cases that means transporting hospital patients to other hospitals for scans or having ambulances redirect elsewhere if an emergency patient is in immediate need of a scan.
It’s an inconvenience for patients and an added cost to the NHS when it has to pay for patient transfers.
While seven years doesn’t sound that old, Sipos said “that’s about the expected life cycle of that equipment.”
Sipos stressed that at present the machine is working, is safe and is producing good-quality images. However, the hospital needs to have a reliable machine.
The GNGH CT scanner is a busy piece of equipment, performing roughly 14,000 scans a year. That translates into about 44 a day, and sometimes as many as 50, during a regular shift. Technicians are also on call to do emergency head scans around the clock.
Nieuwesteeg said the campaign will get underway soon, but she didn’t have a precise timetable. She acknowledged raising money will not be easy, coming so soon on the conclusion of the It’s Our Time Campaign that brought in almost $41 million, $25 million for the new hospital, regional cancer centre and cardiac catheterization lab currently under construction in St. Catharines.
“Hospital equipment is so expensive,” Nieuwesteeg said. “It won’t be easy to raise the money, but it is so necessary. We’re in a constant state of fundraising. When one campaign ends, another begins. It’s just how it is. Equipment gets old and breaks down.”
GNGH Foundation executive director Mike Somerville said the annual budget of the foundation is $1.349 million, although the annual equipment needs tally about $5 million.
Sipos said the NHS is tendering for a replacement machine and hopes to make the purchase in March. Potential vendors are being told the NHS wants to proceed with immediate installation.
Once purchased, installing the new scanner, including electrical work and upgrades that will be needed to support the new unit, is expected to take about eight weeks, Sipos said.
She said while this particular scanner is located at GNGH, the fundraising campaign to pay for a replacement should be seen as a benefit to the whole region.
“It’s for Niagara,” said Sipos. “It’s for the benefit of all of our patients.”