Sandy Ress

Sandy Ress has been parking a car outside Teton Orthopaedics asking people to consider supporting St. John’s Medical Center with their MRI dollars.

A new sign greeted Teton Orthopaedics patients Monday morning, asking them to get their MRI done at St. John’s Medical Center.

Hospital administrators and trustees have worried about the competing MRI facility, Teton Sports and Spine Imaging. But this public display, created by former patient Sandy Ress, marks the first time someone else is raising alarm since the other MRI facility opened in December.

“I’m fired up because I care passionately about this place and the well-being of those of us who live here,” Ress said.

Hospital CEO Paul Beaupre said that “it’s not an administratively-placed car” and didn’t know right away whose car it might be.

While he believes in people’s “right to express themselves” and said that the car is parked legally, Beaupre is researching the hospital’s parking policy. He wants to be fair and consistent if any future cases arise, regardless whether the message is pro- or anti-hospital. Teton Orthopaedics rents space on the hospital campus in the professional office building just to the west of the main hospital. Its patients can go to Teton Sports and Spine Imaging or St. John’s for an MRI.

Shaun Andrikopoulos, founder and chairman of the competing MRI business, in west Jackson, has seen the sign.

“We chose to offer a better, faster, cheaper service,” he said. “It’s a very simple value proposition for people. I just think St. John’s can choose to compete on the same level if they want to, but that’s their business, not ours.”

Forty-two local physicians have referred patients to his facility, Andrikopoulos said, showing the popularity and demand for Teton Sports and Spine Imaging. And while St. John’s has worried publicly about physician investors referring patients there to make a buck, Andrikopoulos said only a small percentage of that number have a stake in his company.

Imaging is one of the three key areas, along with surgeries and anesthesiology, that make the hospital money. Since St. John’s is a public hospital, any money made is reinvested in services that are expensive, like staffing the emergency room or the obstetrics wing, and providing other services that don’t make money, like wellness programs or the Living Center.

Hospital staff say they fear a competing imaging business will hurt their bottom line and, in turn, affect what kind of services they can offer to the community. John Kren, the hospital’s chief financial officer, said the hospital is putting together a plan to address this challenge.

“It’s not something we’re going to fix tomorrow,” he said earlier in August. “But we are working to put together a plan to mitigate this issue. Because we’re definitely not going to cut back on services. We are obligated to have that MRI running just like we are the CT scan and everything else to take care of every patient that comes through the door at pretty much any time, day or night.”

He wouldn’t get into specifics as to what that plan might entail, other than educating the community. However, early budget estimates for the hospital’s next fiscal year show that the hospital is losing around 1,000 scans and $800,000 to $1 million in studies to the competing facility, depending on the specifics of each scan.

Kren said the hospital will offset those losses with money from reserves, at least in the first year, and then it might need to adjust prices accordingly.

“The absence of that money really hurts us as a community,” Ress said.

So Ress went to a local signmaker and asked an auto body shop how to attach a poster to his car — a beater car he bought in case someone decided to vandalize it.

“My goal is to tell people they have a choice and when you exercise your choice, keep these factors in mind,” he said of the sign’s purpose. “All things being equal, go to the hospital to get your MRI. It’ll be better for you and better for the community.”

Ress is a cancer survivor who underwent treatment at St. John’s.

“In the process, I came to realize not just how much I literally enjoyed being at St. John’s, unusual for someone undergoing chemo, but that St. John’s is extremely important to our community, maybe one of the most important institutions we have here, along with our schools, police and fire.”

Andrikopoulos said he doesn’t have a bone to pick with the hospital or its supporters.

“I’m really glad we have St. John’s; we need St. John’s,” he said. “But that’s not to say we don’t need competition. Competition just makes the marketplace healthier.”

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, health@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGhealth.

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(1) comment

greg lewarchik

I've had MRI's, at both locations. My personal opinion, & choice, is Teton Spine & Imagery. This is because I felt it was more professional & my biggest selling point was when I learned they have their tests read by radiologists ( I am saying NOTHING against our local docs) from the Cleveland Clinic. They have such a worldwide reputation, I just want that "little bit" more, in my diagnoses.

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