Jayati Ramakrishnan, Pilot staff writer

Two weeks after opening its doors to the public, Sutter Coast's Brookings Imaging Center held its grand opening Friday night.

The new facility, which opened June 27 at 555 Fifth St., offers services to South Curry County residents including digital X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound services and digital mammography services.

Some of the machines, such as the GE 16-slice CT scanner, were transferred from Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City when that facility purchased new equipment.

The center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Digital X-ray services are available on a walk-in basis, and patients must call to schedule other services.

Wendi Workinger, the diagnostic imaging manager at Sutter Coast Hospital, said the facility has been in the works for about a year.

"We really started thinking, looking to see if there was a need, in the first part of 2015," she said. "For the internal medicine doctors, the average age of their patients is 70 - so it's not easy for them to come here. A lot of them ended up going to Gold Beach, which is fine, but there really was the need for services here."

While the nearby Curry Medical Center does provide a lot of the same services, Sutter Coast CEO Mitch Hanna said a large portion of Sutter Coast's patients come from Curry County, and the hospital saw a need to provide more services to those patients locally.

"We didn't do this to compete with them," Hanna said.

Hanna added that the clinic would be affordable for a wide range of people compared to previous services offered at Sutter Coast Hospital, as well.

"If you go to a hospital, the cost of imaging will be based on hospital prices," he said. "Having an outpatient facility lowers the cost."

Hanna said Sutter Coast plans to add more practitioners to the Brookings facility as it is able.

"When the V.A. moves out (of the office next door, and into its new building on Railroad Street), that will free up space for us to have other services," he said.

Among the new practitioners Sutter Coast hopes to add to the facility are a pulmonologist, a hematologist/oncologist and a family physician.

Workinger said that in the two weeks the center has been open, they have mostly seen walk-in X-ray appointments and ultrasounds, and that it's been a fairly slow start.

"We expected that," she said. "It's kind of nice to have a slow start."

She said all the images produced at the center are digital, and are analyzed by Dr. Helmuth Vollger, the medical radiologist at Sutter Coast Hospital. The turnaround for results, she said, is usually about a day.

The facility is across the street from Curry Medical Center, affiliated with Curry Health Network. Workinger said the proximity of the two facilities was largely a matter of convenience, and has not been a problem.

"We have a pretty good working relationship with them," she said. "It just worked out that way. We looked at other buildings, but that one was what we needed."

Hanna said including the purchase price, the cost of the new facility was about $1.6 million.

Doctors Alex and Juliane Leighton have practiced internal medicine at Sutter Coast's Brookings Healthcare Center for about 12 years.

Alex Leighton said the new clinic would provide greater availability of services to South Curry County residents.

There's always a need for more specialists," he said, "balanced with what the community can support. We keep saying we need more doctors in the community, and this is certainly a positive step."