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Lockport pins hopes for MRI on the Web Hospital campaigns in online contest

Election Day is over, but a different sort of campaign is just heating up.

Lockport Memorial Hospital is competing against dozens of other small hospitals across the country in an intense online election to win a free MRI machine worth $800,000.

The hospitals are wooing online voters with YouTube-worthy, homemade videos and organizing energetic grass-roots campaigns to enlist the community's help. The hospital whose video garners the most votes at www.winanmri.com wins the high-tech machine.

"I've been voting five times every day. I'm going to keep that up through the end of the year," said George E. Fritz, owner of Mills Jewelers in Lockport.

Lockport Memorial is in second place, behind a hospital in Georgia, in a contest that has attracted entries from 60 hospitals so far.

Hospital officials say the magnetic resonance imaging scanner would be a valuable addition -- and one they can't afford to buy on their own.

"An MRI would be a wonderful extension of the services we provide to the community in eastern Niagara County," said Susan Wendler, director of community relations for Lockport Memorial. "If we win, the community wins."

So hospital staffers created an amusing amateur video -- with elements of "ER" and "Goodfellas" -- and recruited business owners and schoolchildren to their cause.

And Lockport has rallied around the hospital with an enthusiastic publicity campaign.

"Lockport is a pretty supportive community," said Ellen Schratz, president of the board of Lockport's Palace Theater. Her husband, Jeffrey, is a surgeon at the hospital. She even asked all the trick-or-treaters who came to her door on Halloween to vote in the contest.

Siemens Medical Solutions launched the contest in an attempt to market its new line of MRI devices and to extend their reach to underserved markets, said Jeffrey Bundy, a vice president.

MRI scanners use radio waves, large magnets and computer software to generate high-resolution images of structures in the body.

MRI devices are useful in detailing how far a cancer has spread, the extent of the damage caused by a stroke or the severity of a case of tendonitis, Wendler said.

In Niagara County, the only hospitals that have an MRI are Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and Mount St. Mary's Hospital, she said.

To buy and install a device that costs at least $800,000 would be all but impossible for Lockport Memorial, officials said. That's why staffers responded when Siemens sent notices to about 1,500 hospitals explaining the contest and inviting them to apply.

The Lockport video is shot from the perspective of a patient who is pulled out of a Lockport Fire Department ambulance and rolled through the hospital as a voice asks, "Is it here yet?"

In a delivery room, a woman in labor responds, "No but we're trying," and a heart monitor beeps faster and faster.

"We wanted to make it light, and make people laugh, but also show the urgency, that it's needed in the community," said Joseph J. DeFazio, director of human resources.

As of Friday, Lockport's video has been watched more than 78,000 times and received more than 41,000 votes.

But Lockport is almost 50,000 votes behind first-place Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus, Ga.

Voting continues through Dec. 31. The contest allows one vote per computer, per day..

So far, Lockport Memorial is the only hospital from Western New York in the contest.

Hospital and community leaders are playing the vote up.

"I have my sister voting. She lives in Holland -- the country," said Fritz, the jeweler.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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