By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Knee injuries in ski towns are as ubiquitous as moguls midseason. Since 1973, Big Sky Resort skiers needing medical imaging for injured knees or other maladies were transported to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital some 60 miles north through Gallatin Canyon.

Now, more than 40 years later, and thanks to over $1 million in donations since January, that could change.

Winter 2015-2016 will see a new area medical facility, the Big Sky Medical Center, set for completion in early December. In 2015 alone, donors have given the nonprofit Bozeman Deaconess Foundation $1,035,000 to assist in completing Phase 1 of Big Sky’s 43,000-square-foot facility, which will include a six-room emergency department; primary care clinic; pharmacy; medevac helicopter-landing pad; laboratory services; a four-bed inpatient unit, and an imaging center.

Contributions from Boyne Resorts along with private donations have helped fund Phase 1 construction costs, but one major contribution will help BSMC’s five newly hired physicians determine if some patients – including those with certain knee injuries – need transport to Bozeman Deaconess Health Services, the health system that’s managing BSMC.

An $850,000 donation spearheaded by Steve and Robin Stephenson will support a permanent, state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or MRI, to allow doctors to diagnose damaged ligaments, tendons or other soft-tissue injuries.

Given in the form of a “challenge grant” through the Charles and Peggy Stephenson Family Foundation, the Stephensons are hoping other donors will step forward to help make the dream a reality. Their donation covers approximately half of the $1.7 million needed to completely fund MRI services, according to a recent press release.

“Both Steve and I feel passionate about being in Big Sky,” said Robin, a retired special education teacher

From left: Robin and Steve Stephenson pose behind BSMC on June 24 with their daughter Kelly Piccardo and her husband, Kevin.

From left: Robin and Steve Stephenson pose behind BSMC on June 24 with their daughter Kelly Piccardo and her husband, Kevin.

who moved from San Diego to Big Sky in 2006. “We have pledged an initial payment for the cost of the MRI and to build out the space [and] hope others will join us.”

The MRI suite is being built in the center of the facility adjacent to a CT scan area. The stationary MRI suite is part of Phase 1 and replaces original plans to house a mobile MRI scanner at the back of the hospital.

“Having that MRI between the emergency department and the clinic will improve both patient care and workflow for our medical staff,” said Jason Smith, executive vice president of BDF.

Both imaging capabilities are essential to proper patient care, according to Dr. Phil Hess, who will assume his position as BSMC’s medical director in early August.

“There are several applications through the emergency department where MRI is preferable to CT scan,” said Hess, who was hired by BDHS in February. “When a patient presents with a stroke, for example.”

The new machine will have a higher magnetic field than the mobile unit, providing better image quality for accurate diagnoses, Hess said. And having the unit stationary ensures patients will have access to medical imaging when they need it.

“A permanent MRI machine is always here,” Robin said. “You don’t have to wait until next Tuesday for it to show up.”

BDF’s Smith says he hopes the Stephenson’s generosity – as well as that of other corporations and individuals who made financial commitments – will be contagious in the Big Sky community.