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Ashland's new 5.5 ton MRI machine will minimize claustrophobia

Ashland Community Hospital: "We're very excited to have the new technology here at the hospital."

Posted: Aug 27, 2019 6:12 PM

ASHLAND, Ore. -- Crews spent more than three hours on Monday putting a new MRI machine inside the Ashland Community Hospital. Right now, there's only two of these MRI machines in the country. One in Arizona and now one here in Ashland.

The Magnetom Altea is so big a crane was brought in to get it inside the building. The million dollar machine weighs in at 11,000 pounds which is 5.5 tons! NewsWatch12 spoke with the Director of Support Service for Ashland Community Hospital. Robert Hibner said these machines have a lifespan of about 15 years.

Very few people get to see what it takes to replace the machines because of their long lifespan.

Hibner said, "With a lot of the designs for installing MRI machines, you have to have a very large opening. And for most facilities, they often create a skylight which is an opening in the roof and they use a crane to lower the skylight into the building."

Here's the breakdown of why this MRI machine is unique and the ways it will benefit patients.

Hiber said, "We really wanted to get a system that would provide the most open experience for our patients and also very fast because its very uncomfortable laying on a table for these."

This isn't just any old MRI machine. The Magnetom Altea a wider, quieter design to minimize anxiety and help those who battle claustrophobia. It can also be tailored to meet the unique needs of needs of all patients up to 550 pounds. Hibner said this 5.5 ton machine will benefit all of the Rogue Valley.

"With it's advanced capabilities providers throughout the entire region can send specific patient types here that have certain needs to have a specific procedure done with this system," Hibner said.

The Ashland Community Hospital is training its employees to use the new machine, which won't be ready for use until September 16.
Until then, MRI patients will be referred to Medford and Grants Pass. For the inconvenience, Ashland Community Hospital officials are giving gas cards to the patients for their extra travel costs.

Matt Welch is going on his sixth year working in radiology as an MRI tech. He told NewsWatch12 this was almost like a dream for him.

"A lot of MRI techs will go their whole career and maybe see this once if they work in imaging for 25 to 30 years," Welch said. "The lifespan of these machines is pretty long, so a lot of people don't ever get to see these put in or taken out, so it's really exciting to see this happen in real time."

The hospital's current machine was turning 18-years-old this year.

Welch said, "We're gonna make sure that we meet the specific needs of each patient. Just making sure that patients are comfortable because it's kind of just an overwhelming procedure in general."

Some MRIs will only take 10 minutes. Although this million dollar machine is rare, patients won't see an increase in cost.

"And that's extremely important, you have to have the ability to balance technology and affordability," Hibner said. 

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