Primary stroke center certification boosts patients’ odds

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Published: December 17,2007

Stroke patients in South Mississippi have high odds of recovery with the care now available at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. The facility has become the first hospital in the state to be certified as a primary stroke center by the Joint Commission. Memorial achieved at least 85% compliance rate of the performance measures for 90 consecutive days in accordance with guidelines set by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, earning the prestigious Bronze Performance Achievement Award.

The award was presented to Dr. Lee Voulters, Memorial Stroke Center medical director, by Earl Coleman Jr., on behalf of the American Heart Association.

“We like to help hospitals reach these goals,” Coleman said. “With hospitals like this in the vanguard, great strides can be taken in preventing death and debilitating effects of stroke.”

Stroke patients can now receive the highest level of stroke treatment available in the nation, Voulters said upon accepting the designation.

“Certification means that the services Memorial provides have the critical elements necessary to achieve long-term success in improving patient evaluation and managing stroke care,” he added. “We are delighted and very proud to be the first hospital in Mississippi to be certified in stroke care. Our staff has worked incredibly hard to become a Joint Commission certified stroke center.”

Voulters was recruited by Memorial and joined the hospital because he saw what the facility was trying to accomplish and wanted to be part of the team. With strokes killing 700,000 people each year, many of whom are Mississippians, he feels it’s important for the state to lead the battle against this killer.

He stressed that stroke is a medical emergency and getting care quickly is crucial. Memorial’s acute stroke team is available around the clock, seven days a week to diagnose and treat victims of stroke in the shortest time possible.

Gary Marchand, president/CEO of Memorial Hospital, expressed his pride in this designation. “We have attained this recognition even as we have recovered from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “This effort speaks volumes about the dedication and commitment of our medical staff and employees.

“We’re now in the process of helping other facilities throughout the state become certified primary stroke centers.”

Helping other facilities is the next phase and Teresa Romano is leading the charge. A registered nurse with several additional training designations, she serves as neurosciences and rehabilitation program development coordinator. She has already visited North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo and the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

“Our goal is to help other hospitals, and we will work with any who want us,” she said. “Also, we are doing a lot of community education. This is my passion.”

To attain the primary stroke center certification, hospitals are required to hold at least one educational conference for the community. Romano said Memorial has held several large conferences and plans to go to churches and schools with programs.

“The saddest thing is that patients don’t get here (the hospital) fast enough. Many people sit at home for days after they’ve had a stroke,” she said. “With more education about the symptoms, we can get people to come in immediately.”

Romano would like to see Mississippi adopt the stroke response that Florida has whereby ambulances won’t take patients with stroke symptoms to a hospital that is not certified in stroke care.

“Mississippi needs to catch up and do that if we’re ever going to beat this thing,” she said. “Small hospitals can not become primary stroke centers, but they can have a plan of action to deal with strokes and move patients.”

Voulters and Romano praised the hospital’s administration for their support and leadership in developing the stroke program. “We have a wonderful administration here that never says no,” Voulters said.

Memorial’s evaluation and certification decision in stroke care was based on the following criteria developed by the Joint Commission in conjunction with the American Stroke Association:

• Having acute stroke rapid response treatment teams similar to trauma teams in the U.S.

• Operating in-patient stroke care units.

• Using pre-written, detailed stroke care protocols.

• Having an integrated emergency response system for managing patients experiencing a stroke, with support services including continuously available brain imaging with interpretation and rapid laboratory testing.

• Demonstrating a commitment from administration with strong clinical leadership to providing ongoing community education about stroke risks, symptoms and treatment.

Voulters said the bronze level certification is just the beginning. The silver level requires 12 months of consecutive evaluation and the gold level requires 24 months for certification.

“We are committed to serving our community with care and education, and supporting other facilities,” he said. “We need to work hard to educate people to control their blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. We can do a lot to control stroke.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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