Soldotna hospital hopes to upgrade imaging equipment

Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna is looking to update its imaging capabilities with some new equipment if the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly gives it the green light.

The assembly introduced an ordinance at its March 8 meeting for the hospital to use funds from its Plant Replacement and Expansion Fund to purchase three new pieces of equipment, totaling approximately $1.5 million. The new equipment will not introduce any brand-new services to the hospital — it is to replace aging technology that may not be able to be serviced or upgraded in the future.

The purchase is part of the ongoing imaging renovation project. The space for the new equipment is nearing completion and is ready for the equipment to be installed, according to a memo from the hospital’s board of directors.

The equipment would fill a space in the redesigned facility in the newly opened specialty building at the hospital. Right now, the hospital’s MRI machine is housed in a temporary building, but the new machine would come into a permanent space, said Bruce Richards, the external and government affairs manager for the hospital.

The imaging redesign had to be done in phases because the equipment had to be accessible at all times, he said.

“We can’t just shut it down and relocate it because of all the different pieces of equipment that are in there,” Richards said. “That’s why we’re doing it in phases so we can keep it operational.”

The most expensive machine will update the hospital’s nuclear medicine camera, which has not been updated since 2004. The machine will cost approximately $830,000, according to a memo from the hospital’s board of director submitted to the assembly.

The camera will allow the imaging staff to shorten the time of exposure to radiation during nuclear medicine tests and to take more accurate diagnoses, said Katherine Leslie, the imaging services director at the hospital.

The second piece is a new MRI machine, totaling about $674,923, that will replace the current MRI, which went out of production in 2010 and will no longer be serviced. Finding replacement parts after the company stops servicing that machine will be more difficult. The new machine will be easier to use and more comfortable for patients, Leslie said.

One of the biggest barriers to taking an MRI image is patients’ comfort, Leslie said. By making the bore hole — the opening where patients enter the machine — about 10 centimeters larger, they can be more comfortable, she said.

The new machine would change the type of magnet in the machine as well. Currently, the imaging staff has to monitor the amount of helium in the magnet unit to make sure it stays stable, and with a predicted helium shortage, the cost for maintaining it may go up. The new machine would not need to be constantly filled with helium, Leslie said.

The last piece is a new breast coil. The one it will replace does still work but would not be compatible with the new MRI machine when it is installed. The replacement coil would also improve image quality by about four times, Leslie said — instead of taking four “slices” of image every time the coil rotates, it would take 16.

As interest in using MRIs for breast screening grows, improving the hospital’s equipment could help the imaging department prepare, Leslie said.

Along with the purchasing agreement, the hospital will pay $193,933 annually for the maintenance services from the company. However, maintenance will be more immediately available than before — an engineer will move to the Kenai Peninsula this summer as part of the service agreement. Leslie said it was part of the contract negotiation.

The borough assembly will vote on the purchase at its April 5 meeting.