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Thanks, partner: Kodak, hospital help each other out

Location is always a factor in business, even when it comes to nonprofit hospitals.

In Providence Medford Medical Center's case, the proximity to Eastman Kodak's White City DryView medical imaging film plant has continual benefits.

The manufacturing firm and hospital have developed a relationship in which Kodak provides some of its latest technology for beta testing, while receiving valuable feedback from radiologists and technicians.

Most recently, Kodak donated a &

36;90,000 cutting-edge laser printer last month used by Providence's imaging department.

— It's great to have a company that makes health- imaging equipment for the world right outside our back door, says Mike Baker, Providence's director of diagnostic imaging. We've had a great working relationship.

It would be foolish for us not to keep up our knowledge base of what they're doing and for them not to keep up their knowledge base in our world.

To that end, Eastman Kodak executives from around the country have toured Providence's imaging facility and Providence staff members have toured the White City plant and talked with the manufacturer's engineers.

For a little hospital like this, that's huge, Baker says.

Kodak plant manager Brian Melchiori says the relationship holds plenty of benefits for his company.

A local hospital using Kodak products and services gives the global leader in dry printing systems insight into the changing needs of the medical community.

Often times we will bring an idea or product change to them and have them evaluate it for us, Melchiori says. Another thing is that we're a pretty significant employer in the valley, and all Kodak locations around the country like to get involved in the community, because we not only work here but live here, too.

In a small way, Kodak's donation also slows the spiral of health-care costs, allowing Providence to provide cutting-edge diagnosis without spending thousands of additional dollars.

It's hard to put a dollar amount to the relationship, Baker says. We probably wouldn't have bought the printer, so we'd be spending more money on X-ray film and printing out big sheets of film, which cost &

36;2 to &

36;3 apiece.

The hospital conducts between 69,000 and 70,000 exams annually and budgets between &

36;300,000 and &

36;350,000 for film.

With Kodak's printer, we're able to just print out the size we need, Baker says. My bet is that this saves us 10 to 15 percent, about &

36;30,000. With the Medicare population and patient base we have in the valley, any time you can avoid costs, that goes back to the bottom line.

Access to local radiologists and technicians has been a boon for Kodak.

Physicians are very interested in the quality of the image when they look at our film, Melchiori says. They want know how crisp is the image ' the contrast between light areas and dark areas. When they talk about quality, we call that resolution. They have a background preference, what we call tone. They want it to be like looking at a black-and-white TV screen with a more bluish or brownish tint. The tone is something physicians care about, so they can discern pathology from normal tissue.

Armed with the input, Kodak can refine its products.

We've built up a really good relationship where we can call each other on the phone and see what's going on, Baker says. The plant in White City makes film for the whole world, so for our doctors to be involved gets them excited.

Interaction between the hospital and manufacturer goes back to the days when Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Corp. operated the plant. (In 1996, 3M spin-off Imation took control of the local operation until it was acquired by Kodak in 1998).

So it was a natural for Kodak to lend a major hand when Providence Community Health Foundation began raising funds in April 2003 for what is now known as the Leila J. Eisenstein Breast Center.

New technology is very, very expensive, says foundation Executive Director Susan Toner. It changes so rapidly that about the time you pay for a piece of equipment, you find that somebody has come up with something better.

One of the goals of the center was to reduce mammogram waiting periods that were taking up to six months.

When Baker explained the challenge and goals to local Kodak management, the company responded by donating a &

36;150,000 piece of equipment that enabled Providence to change X-rays from film to a digital format.

They offered, Baker says. We didn't have to ask.

The newest piece of equipment prints X-rays in three sizes, compared to the traditional 14-inch by 17-inch standard size.

The donated 8900 Network Imager, made in Oakdale, Minn., allows images, otherwise limited to computer screens, to print to film.

There are advantages , Melchiori says, of being able to look at both computers and film on light boxes.

Brian Melchiori, left, of Kodak and Mike Baker of Providence Medford Medical Center examine a new imager donated to the hospital?s radiology unit. In exchange for such cutting-edge equipment, Kodak gets valuable feedback from the hospital?s radiologists. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli