Mar. 21—PITTSBURG, Kan. — Freeman Health System President and CEO Paula Baker couldn't hide her smile during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.
Not only was she back in her old stomping grounds — Baker was born and raised in Pittsburg — she also was eager to announce a new medical service that should fill a void throughout Southeast Kansas.
Located at 100 N. Pine St., the new Freeman Orthopedics & Sports Medicine MRI Service is a trailer-sized facility capable of making high-quality images. In years past, several local outlets were capable of producing images in a timely fashion. That's no longer the case today due to the closure of a Fort Scott-based hospital and a local MRI provider, forcing Pittsburg patients to make the 30-minute drive south to Joplin.
But no longer, Baker announced.
"We understand that traveling to Joplin for medical appointments can sometimes be difficult or burdensome," she said during the ceremony, which was held inside the Pittsburg-based Freeman Surgical Center. "This is why we're offering MRI services in Pittsburg; our highly certified and trained radiation technologists always put patients first, offering them compassionate and expert care" and to make it easier for them "to access the care that they need."
The hospital system, Baker continued, is honored to provide that service. She said represents a "significant investment" in Southeast Kansas.
Dr. Michael Zufuta, an orthopedic surgeon, called the MRI facility a "game-changer."
"We can do everything here at our office; we can make a diagnosis and get (a patient's) treatment taken care of more quickly than we would have otherwise," he said.
The reliable readings and quicker turnaround, he said, "will make it more convenient for our patients who won't have to go to (Joplin's Freeman Hospital West) to get this done."
The MRI service has been up and running in Pittsburg since a soft opening in January.
"We have already performed more than 100 procedures" so far this year, Baker said. "But we are ready to go full speed now."
The MRI facility, which is accessible to patients in wheelchairs, currently operates two days each week — Tuesdays and Fridays — and has already seen great demand from Joplin and other areas, even Kansas City, due to its upgraded imaging quality, said Mick Ward, Freeman's director of orthopedic services.
The facility has already received "referrals from 14 area physicians needing imaging for orthopedic injuries, as well as workers' compensation cases, abdominal issues, liver exams, neurologic injuries and more," he said.
Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, called the new MRI service "just one more investment in our community.
"The health care sector has been such a big growth sector in our economy," he said, "and Freeman Health System has been a huge part of that."