State-of-the-art MRI scanner coming to West River Health Services

An exciting new addition to the West River Health Services (WRHS) has broken ground and is anticipated to reach completion by July.

WRHS MRI Addition

By Amy Wolff | For The Record

An exciting new addition to the West River Health Services (WRHS) has broken ground and is anticipated to reach completion by July.

Plans have been set in motion for the construction of a building to house a “state-of-the-art” magnetic resonance imaging scanner (MRI). WRHS, located in Hettinger, attempted to make this vision a reality for a few years, but it was not until recently that it became a real possibility for the nationally recognized health care provider.

Many WRHS staff members and community members helped in the extensive planning. The administrative group assisted with crunching the numbers, looking at the long-term benefits versus the seemingly exorbitant price tag. The radiology department took an enthusiastic, hands-on approach in looking into different types of MRI scanners and finding the perfect fit for WRHS. The physicians group also pushed hard for the addition so they could make better choices in the care of their patients.

After much discussion and research, final approval came from the WRHS Board of Directors.

The extended wait and preparation was crucial, as the new building, complete with its MRI scanner, will cost about $3 million.

Jodi Burns, manager of the radiology department, said that they wanted to make certain WRHS could provide this service while still “keeping (their) heads above water.”

A decision was reached with the majority of funding coming from depreciable assets within the organization and the remaining $500,000 raised from donations made by the public, including area businesses, organizations and interested citizens.

WRHS’s path to obtaining the MRI wasn’t without its bumps. While the proper steps were taken, and regulations followed, an unexpected problem delayed construction of the MRI building. Construction crews from Ainsworth-Benning of Spearfish, S.D., struck a water line running directly through the dig site, sending a deluge of water into the surrounding area. No nearby homes or structures were damaged and with a rerouting of the water line, construction resumed.

Once the ongoing construction of the building is completed, the MRI can be moved in and the setup can be finalized.

A closed MRI scanner was chosen because the images they produce are much better than open MRI scanners on the market. Another benefit to the new scanner is its larger bore, which provides more room between the patient’s forehead and top of the scanner. That is considered a blessing by some patients who may suffer from feelings of claustrophobia in the smaller closed scanners.

There also is a comfortable table surface designed to alleviate pressure points as well as a high-tech sound system that not only dampens the noise of the machine for less ear pounding, but also allows patients to listen to music.

Cindy Ham, community relations and marketing director at WRHS, said the decision for the new scanner came down to comfort.

“Comfort, comfort, comfort, we’re trying to make it as comfortable for our patients as possible,” Ham said.

Aside from benefits associated with the type of scanner, there are benefits for WRHS and the community in providing the services of a full MRI facility.

By bringing an MRI scanner to Hettinger, WRHS can assist patients not only from Hettinger, but the many surrounding communities, five days a week. Many patients travel hours to larger cities in the region because they cannot, or choose not, to wait until the mobile MRI unit comes through once each week.

Ted Uecker, the fund development officer for WRHS, was adamant in the level of care the new scanner will be able to provide to patients.

“That’s what it really comes down to at West River: taking care of our patients. We think we are going to provide terrific services. People will definitely want to come here and physicians will want to stay here,” Uecker said.

The improved images will assist in making better, timelier diagnoses and decisions for patients.

“It will be a great addition to our toolbox here. Let’s face it, good doctors with good tools add up to great patient care,” said Dr. Mark Kristy of the radiology department as he summed up the positive outlook surrounding the exciting development.

To join the Building Addition and MRI Campaign, contact Eucker at (701) 567-6187 or email

Amy Wolff is a freelance writer for the Adams County Record. She can be contacted through N.D. Group Editor Bryce Martin at