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PLANS are well underway for a second major expansion of the Pan Am Clinic, this time a $5-million project to add an MRI scanner and increase the number of plastic surgeries.

Pan Am is currently undergoing a $4-million expansion approved two years ago when the successful sports medicine and surgery clinic was purchased by the province.

That expansion, which has been the source of an ongoing political battle, was to be completed by February 2004. It was intended to expand the facility and allow more surgeries and more complete physiotherapy.

Now Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has proposed a second phase of expansion, in large part to provide plastic surgery and therapy for patients who have made claims through the Workers Compensation Board.

The new expansion will involve adding a $1.3-million second floor to the addition still under construction. Another $3.5 million would be needed to buy the MRI scanner and build a separate facility to house it.

Magnetic resonance imaging is a form of radiology that uses magnetism, radio waves and a computer to create images of internal body structures.

Dr. Brock Wright, chief medical officer for the WRHA, said the second expansion is part of the authority’s ongoing efforts to channel day surgeries away from hospitals, which would prefer to concentrate on more serious and complex procedures.

The WCB is being asked to make a one-time capital contribution to the cost of the second expansion, along with some ongoing fees for MRI scans and treatment, Wright said. Negotiations are still underway to determine the exact amount of the WCB contribution.

If approved by cabinet, both phases of the expansion could be completed by next summer. The two expansions would double the total number of surgeries that could be done at Pan Am to 6,000 procedures per year from 3,000, Wright said.

The province has not yet approved the second expansion. Health Minister Dave Chomiak said he wants to study the whole proposal before making any specific comments.

However, the lion’s share of the second expansion may be a done deal. Premier Gary Doer promised the MRI scanner while campaigning in the provincial election last May.

Chomiak said he is very happy with the return on his original investment to buy the Pan Am Clinic from its physician shareholders. He said he is not yet decided on the value of a second capital expansion.

Tory Health critic Myrna Driedger said she expects the province to proceed with the expansion as part of a campaign to put private surgical clinics out of business.

‘Not a good investment’

Driedger said WCB patients are already getting surgical services at some private clinics. It is completely unnecessary to spend more money to expand Pan Am to get something that is already being provided by the private sector, she said.

“This is not a good investment to spend taxpayer money on more bricks and mortar,” said Driedger. “I think the public is going to be very offended by this.”

The future of private surgical clinics in the publicly funded health-care system has been in doubt for some months. The province has not yet started negotiations to renew its contract with Western Surgery Centre, which performs more than 1,600 cataract procedures each year.

Chomiak has said his efforts to reorganize surgical services — which has seen cardiac surgery focused at St. Boniface Hospital and orthopedic surgeries consolidated at Concordia Hospital — will create more capacity in the public system.

Wright said it is conceivable that the cataract surgeries now performed at Western Surgery Centre could be done at Misericordia Hospital, which now does 8,000 cataracts, and Pan Am, which only does 400 at present but which could do many more after the expansion.

Pan Am was established in 1984 as Manitoba’s first sports medicine clinic, offering primary care services. Surgical services were added in 1992.

After talking with Pan Am’s owners about a partnership, the NDP government eventually settled on a plan nearly three years ago to purchase the clinic for $3 million but allow it to maintain an arm’s length, private management headed by CEO Wayne Hildahl.

The government also promised to complete a $4-million expansion of the facility, adding two more operating rooms and space for offices and physiotherapy.