Echocardiography services will be offered at the Selkirk Regional Health Centre starting next week, allowing residents living in the region to access care closer to home while continuing to reduce province-wide wait times for the diagnostic scan.

“We are committed to providing better health care sooner for all Manitobans,” said Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen. “Adding echocardiography services in Selkirk will build on our work to improve wait times, and allow more patients in the Interlake region to obtain this specialized service where they live.”

Almost 3,000 patients per year from the Interlake region travel to Winnipeg to receive echocardiograms. Nearly 24 per cent of residents in the region live with hypertension, higher than the provincial average of 20.7 per cent, making the new site an ideal location for the service to be expanded.

Echocardiograms provide an ultrasound for the heart and can offer a timely diagnosis for various forms of heart disease. Once fully operational, up to 1,620 scans per year will be performed at the new site, which will begin accepting patients this Wednesday.

All scans performed in Selkirk will be non-urgent and elective, with the results interpreted by cardiologists at Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg (HSC). Urgent or complex scans will continue to be referred to HSC or St. Boniface Hospital.

“This community-led initiative builds upon our health system’s capacity to offer specialized services outside of Winnipeg and addresses a regional need for this service,” said Ron van Denakker, chief executive officer, Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority (IERHA). “We are pleased that the Rotary Club of Selkirk worked with us as they undertook their Project Echo fundraising campaign to help more patients receive this service closer to home.”

Adding echocardiography services in Selkirk is only the latest in a sustained effort by the Manitoba government to improve provincial wait times for non-urgent and elective scans, the minister noted. Last spring, seven cardiac sonographer positions were added at HSC and St. Boniface Hospital, which has reduced non-urgent and elective wait times by more than 33 per cent since May 2019.

“Echocardiograms are important tests that assist in the diagnosis of various heart conditions,” said Dr. Brock Wright, chief executive officer, Shared Health. “Expanding the service to Selkirk will align with recommendations made in Manitoba’s Clinical and Preventive Services Plan to build up local capacity for specialized services and enable rural and northern patients the ability to receive the care they need without having to travel to Winnipeg.”

Shared Health and the IERHA have hired a full-time cardiac sonographer and clerk to support the new unit, which will be located in previously-unused space at the newly-constructed health centre.

The Rotary Club of Selkirk raised approximately $200,000 to purchase the medical equipment required to bring echocardiography services to the region. Eleven different municipalities throughout the health region contributed to the project, as did 31 community groups, local businesses, Hutterite colonies and dozens of individuals.

“The continued improvement of health services is important to all Manitobans, including those of us who live in the Interlake-Eastern RHA,” said Jean Oliver, vice-president of the Rotary Club of Selkirk and co-chair of Project Echo. “We are thrilled to partner on this meaningful initiative that will have a positive impact on the heart health of Interlake-Eastern communities and all Manitobans.”

Manitoba has seen recent success in other specialized services. Wait times for hip and knee replacements and cardiac surgeries have reduced significantly since the fall of 2018, when the government invested an additional $5.3 million to perform additional procedures. Since that time, wait times for hip and knee surgeries have improved by more than 21 per cent year-over-year. Similarly, waits for cataract surgeries have improved province-wide.