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North Adams Regional Hospital Offers New MRI Unit

Paul Hopkins
Northern Berkshire Healthcare

For some, having to get an MRI can be a terrifying experience, but a hospital in North Adams, Massachusetts is trying to ease the process.

Just the sounds of an MRI unit scanning can be jarring, let alone being stuck in a tunnel for what seems like hours. With the hope of making the experience less nerve-wracking, North Adams Regional Hospital now houses the area’s only large bore magnetic resonance imaging unit. Lisa Harrison oversees the MRI department. She says bariatric patients typically have had to travel to Albany or Springfield to find a unit that could accommodate their size.

“The table limit on a normal MRI is about 300 pounds,” Harrison said. “This unit can accommodate a 550lb patient. It’s a 70-centimeter bore magnet so we have more space for the patient.”

Before bringing the equipment in, the hospital relied on an MRI unit inside the bed of a truck.

“It was pulled up to a ramp outside the building,” Harrison explained. “We could still bring wheelchair and stretcher patients out onto the truck without bringing them outside. It was a good solution at the time, but as technology has grown we wanted to offer our patients more. The truck was a very small area to work in so it wasn’t a good place to bring a claustrophobic patient or a large patient.”

Barbara Aaron spent about 25 minutes in the 70-centimeter wide unit, but wasn’t exactly jumping to get inside.

“That was one of my biggest worries in life, having to have an MRI,” Aaron said with a relieving chuckle. “I’m extremely claustrophobic and that was nothing. It was nothing. I mean I was scared for the whole time they told me I had to have one. Now I wouldn’t mind having one ever.”

The room the unit sits in is also designed to provide a calming experience. Large windows allow for a look outside and lighted ceiling panels depict blue skies. When I climbed in, my first time in an MRI unit, I nearly dozed off to rock classic “Magic Carpet Ride.” Aaron speaks of a similar experience.

“I closed my eyes,” she said. “I had the head phones on and I just relaxed.”

The process to bring the unit in took about a year, and as Harrison explains, required plenty of prep work.

“With an MRI you can’t just place it in a standard room,” Harrison said. “There is a magnetic field and radio waves that work together to create the image, so the room had to be built so there was no interference with either the radio waves or the magnetic field. The whole room is covered in galvanized steel. Under the magnet itself is copper and this acts as shielding for sounds coming into building that could interfere with the radio waves.”

The roughly $1 million magnet weighs over a ton and is very powerful.

“We had to make the MRI magnet itself friendly to the environment around it,” Harrison explained. “We have trucks going by and cars parked outside the MRI building, so the magnet had to be shimmed to recognize these metal objects around it and not have interference with the magnetic field that creates the images.”

On average, the hospital runs 10 to 14 scans a day and is already seeing an increase since the new unit arrived.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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