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Patients at CHI Health Schuyler will soon benefit from studies using the latest in radiology technology made possible through a grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Rural Healthcare Program.

The Helmsley Charitable Trust has awarded CHI Health Schuyler $584,730 for a Siemens Luminos Agile Max Digital Radiography and Fluoroscopy Stationary Unit, as well as a Carestream Revolution Digital Radiography Mobile Unit, part of a $14.2 million initiative to upgrade x-ray technology at 50 rural hospitals in the upper Midwest.

"We are beyond grateful for the Helmsley Charitable Trust's generosity and support of rural health care," said Connie Peters, president of CHI Health Schuyler, through a released statement. "Without this type of support, staying current with rapidly advancing technology and providing necessary health care services for our rural community would be very difficult."

Walter Panzirer, a trustee for the Helmsley Charitable Trust, said the initiative represents the organization’s latest multi-site initiative to improve the quality of health care available to rural residents in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming.

“Our goal has always been to improve access to exceptional medical treatment for those who live in rural America,” said Panzirer, through a released statement. “To that end, rural hospitals need to remain viable and have the latest equipment to ensure their patients can receive essential, quality health care services locally. This initiative is just one of many that strive to improve health care outcomes throughout the upper Midwest.”

Panzirer said critical access hospitals in the seven-state region are hampered by outdated equipment. Over the last four years, the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Rural Healthcare Program awarded more than $30 million in grants to 82 hospitals in the Upper Midwest to purchase state-of-the-art computer tomography (CT) scanners.

The Helmsley Charitable Trust’s latest initiative addresses out-of-date x-ray technology that underserves patients and jeopardizes the health of physicians and x-ray technicians, according to Panzirer.

The $14.2 million in grants will allow replacement of a total of 87 pieces of equipment, including: 32 fixed x-ray devices with an average age of 16 years; 47 portable x-ray devices with an average age of 28 years; three fixed fluoroscopy devices averaging nine years; and five portable C-arms with an average age of 16 years.

Ashley Konwinski, a diagnostic imaging supervisor at CHI Health Schuyler, has been treating patients with the existing, outdated equipment, since 2016. She explained that these Helmsley grants are intended to boost the productivity of critical access hospitals that don’t always have state-of-the-art equipment at their fingertips.

“At critical access hospitals you have to do it all – x-rays, CT scans, ultrasound, vascular ultrasound and also supervise the department,” Konwinski said of her role. “ … Critical access hospitals have to be able to treat patients immediately and then get them to where they need to go.”

She noted that Helmsley grants only come around every so often, so when she received information regarding the new application process, she jumped at the opportunity.

The major positive of the grant is that it allows the care facility to continue reducing radiation levels patients’ experience. With the new equipment, radiation emissions are expected to reduce by as much as 75 percent.

“So, a very substantial amount,” she said.

The new equipment will also allow for patients who weigh up to 600 pounds to receive radiology care, whereas before, those weighing much over 300 pounds weren’t able to fit in the existing machine.

The overall image quality produced from the new machine will also be substantially better, she noted.

The goal is for the majority of the new equipment to be in Schuyler by the end of July.

“By then we want to have a good feeling that it is coming shortly, or actually have it on our doorstep,” Konwinski said.

Schuyler Sun News Editor Sam Pimper contributed to this story.

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