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Essentia Health-St. Joe's named stroke ready hospital

Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center has been accredited as an acute stroke ready hospital. The designation, by the Minnesota Department of Health, means the hospital is equipped to evaluate, stabilize and provide emergency care to patients with acute stroke symptoms.

Essentia officials said that with a stroke, time lost is brain lost. The stroke code program at St. Joseph's Medical Center began in February 2012. Since that time the Emergency Department at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center has seen performance at 45 minutes door to drug times which is well below the national benchmark of 60 minutes. The shorter the time from entering the Emergency Department to receiving the proper diagnosis and medication the better the outcomes, according to Essentia officials.

"The focus on building a great stroke program is centered on caring for our community and patients," said Dr. Pete Henry, chief medical officer at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center and Emergency Department physician. "According to the Minnesota Department of Health, more than one-third of Minnesotans live over 60 minutes away from a primary stroke center. We strive to bring a high level of care to our patients so we are ready and equipped to treat acute stroke patients."

The Department of Health recently commended the hospital's stroke code protocol in use.

The stroke code program is one of the multi-disciplinary teams that assemble in the Emergency Department for specific events such as heart attack, stroke and trauma.

"Having a stroke code program in place allows us to streamline the diagnosis and treatment of a stroke and provide the best treatment available to minimize or prevent disability from a stroke," said Dr. Rebecca Holcomb, stroke code program director and director of Emergency Medicine at St. Joseph's. "Our goal is to keep our patients close to home. If we can medically treat them and admit them to our facility then that's what we will do."

A stroke-ready hospital always has a stroke team available, a CT scanner on site and can administer a vital clot-dissolving drug called tPA. The stroke hospital designation process is the principal component of the Minnesota Stroke System.

The criteria to be designated as "Acute Stroke Ready" include: Acute Stroke Team; Emergency Department stroke protocols; EMS protocols; acute stroke trained staff; diagnostic testing capabilities; brain imaging capabilities; emergent therapies protocols; neurosurgery coverage plan; transfer protocols; designated medical director.

Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd is a Level III Trauma Center, providing emergency medical services 24 hours a day, seven days a week through urgent care, emergency rooms and trauma surgery. Its life-saving team cares for more than 26,000 patients per year through any situation, from minor injuries or illnesses to life-threatening conditions requiring immediate surgery and intervention.

"In emergency situations minutes count," Holcomb said. "By working together as a Stoke Code Team we are able to provide better outcomes for patients and their families." Stroke is the nation's leading cause of disability and the No. 3 killer. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel going to the brain is disrupted either by a blood clot or a ruptured vessel. This process is similar to that which occurs in a heart attack. Deprived of oxygen, the nerve cells in the affected area of the brain cannot function and often die. The parts of the body controlled by those cells are then unable to function.

It's important to recognize the signs of a stroke, Essentia officials said. They advise that patients have three hours to get themselves the maximum care available. People are also advised to call 911 immediately if they or a loved one has these stroke symptoms:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Or remember to act FAST. F-facial droop. A-arm weakness. S-speech difficulty. T-time to call 911. Stroke is an emergency.