LEWISTON — Central Maine Medical Center is installing an MRI machine in an underused slice of its emergency department, in what may be a first for the 126-year-old hospital.

For the past few decades, CMMC has shared an MRI machine with the Center for Diagnostic Imaging, a private business. When CMMC’s admitted patients needing an MRI — because they were hurt in a car accident or because doctors were looking for a tumor, for example —  they were taken to Central Maine Imaging Center at 287 Main St., across the street from the hospital. 

“We had a situation where sometimes our patients had to be transported by ambulance across the street,” said Jeff Brickman, CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, CMMC’s parent. “This avoids that unpleasant situation.”

Hospital leaders believe this will be the first in-house MRI machine for CMMC.

“We didn’t have for a long time what many other hospitals across the country had,” Brickman said. “We’re actually playing catch-up. This is long, long overdue.”

The project will cost $2 million, half of which will pay for the machine. The MRI, control room and waiting areas will take up about 2,500 square feet of the emergency department. 

Hospital leaders said the emergency department was built to serve 80,000 visitors a year but routinely gets closer to 42,000 to 45,000, so it doesn’t need all the space it’s been given.

CMMC’s emergency department saw a major expansion in 2009. That $45 million project, in part, doubled the space dedicated to emergencies, from 17,000 square feet to 34,000 square feet.  

The MRI project will be paid from the hospital’s capital budget.

Central Maine Healthcare, which also runs Rumford and Bridgton hospitals, was $12 million in the red last year. In February, the hospital system announced it was laying off 28 people and partnering with the local YMCA to take over CMMC’s fitness and wellness center. It also dropped plans to become an anchor tenant at Bates Mill No. 5 because it couldn’t afford it.

Brickman said the hospital system is in better financial shape and that has allowed it to move forward with the MRI project.

“We’ve had to make some tough decisions just to get back to a stable position,” Brickman said. “Once we reached a stable state, we would begin to reinvest in our people, our infrastructure, our technology and our strategies. This is a continuation of those commitments that we made when we started this journey 13 months ago.”

Brickman said the MRI project is the beginning of “some major investments” within the system. 

“Transformation’s not just about cost reduction,” he said. “This year we’re making significant investment in our infrastructure, in our programs. This is one of several investments that we’re going to make.”

Construction has started in CMMC. The MRI machine is expected to be available to patients by mid-January.

[email protected]

Central Maine Medical Center (Submitted photo)