St. Mary’s becomes Primary Stroke Center

St. Mary’s Hospital is now certified as a Primary Stroke Center, a distinction awarded after a thorough auditing process by independent, nonprofit accreditation group The Joint Commission.

The advanced certification took effect Oct. 17, making St. Mary’s the only Primary Stroke Center between Provo, Utah, and the Denver metropolitan area. The distinction won’t lead to monetary gain for the hospital, according to Dr. Logan McDaneld, a stroke-trained neurologist at St. Mary’s. It will improve practices, though, he said.

“This ensures the highest standard of care,” McDaneld said.

Stroke patients aren’t new at St. Mary’s, where about 300 people are admitted for strokes each year. But some of the practices associated with treating stroke patients are new within the last half-decade.

Kelly Arnold, coordinator of stroke services at St. Mary’s, said the hospital made a commitment to improve its stroke care in 2007 when she was hired. Under her direction, the hospital created a unified treatment checklist for doctors, formed a multi-disciplinary team for various team members who come in contact with stroke patients and improved the continuum of care from the time a patient is admitted to the time he or she is stabilized and evaluated in the Stroke Ward, receives therapy in the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, then is discharged and invited to a stroke support group.

Five years of work within the hospital, plus staff working on community education about strokes, following American Heart Association and American Stroke Association guidelines and working with local emergency medical services personnel to ensure they get patients prepared for a seamless transition through the hospital, helped St. Mary’s earn The Joint Commission’s certification as a Primary Stroke Center. The streamlined system also helped the hospital lower its mortality rate for all stroke patients admitted to the hospital from 11 percent five years ago to 6 percent today, according to Arnold.

Although the hospital has improved its mortality rate, St. Mary’s Director of Neurosciences Michael Herrick said patient outcomes rely largely on how willing people are to call 911 quickly when they show signs of a stroke. Treatment is still possible hours and days after a stroke, but the most important interventions have to be administered as soon as possible.

“We can have the best facilities in the world but if a community isn’t coming in, the outcomes aren’t good,” Herrick said.

Symptoms of a stroke come on suddenly and include numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; severe headache with seemingly no cause; confusion, trouble speaking or difficulty understanding; and trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination. Less common symptoms are a brief loss of consciousness or sudden nausea or vomiting that develops in minutes or hours instead of over the course of several days, like the stomach flu.

The hospital’s certification should not be confused with accreditation, which the hospital already had and which is necessary for a facility to qualify for Medicare reimbursements. Certification has to be maintained and Primary Stroke Centers are checked periodically to make sure staff are still following protocol and improving practices. Keeping certification will mean keeping up with research and updating practices to incorporate new findings.

“The certification for us is not the end,” McDaneld said. “It’s a foundation. There are a lot of things down the line that will change substantially.”


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