Many Louisiana residents don’t have quick access to stroke treatment

If you or someone you love suffers a stroke, getting quick treatment is important.
Published: May. 8, 2021 at 11:00 AM CDT|Updated: May. 8, 2021 at 11:02 AM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - If you or someone you love suffers a stroke, getting quick treatment is important. But a new report reveals that many Louisiana residents don’t have quick and easy access to primary and comprehensive stroke care centers.

The majority of certified stroke care centers are in cities. According to the CDC, most rural parishes don’t have easy access to emergency stroke care. In Louisiana, 19% of people live more than a 45-minute drive from a certified stroke center, according to analysis from Investigate TV and Kaiser Health News.

“If somebody starts having symptoms, whether it’s trouble speaking, they start having facial drooping, have weakness on one side, they call 911,” said David Hubbard, the quality improvement coordinator at Acadian Ambulance.

Only 35% of people in Louisiana live within 45 minutes of a hospital with the most advanced levels of stroke certification.

Hubbard said it’s crucial to take them to the nearest appropriate hospital and quickly. Depending on their severity, they may be flown to another hospital.

“If the patient is more critical, or like they have a large vein occlusion, they may have to be transferred to another hospital such as Ochsner in Shreveport or Rapides in Alexandria,” said Hubbard.

In Region 8, there are only acute stroke-ready hospitals and stroke bypass hospitals, formerly known as levels three and four. All three hospitals in Monroe are acute stroke ready and do provide services for stroke care. Hubbard said if you’re having a stroke, time is of the essence.

“If it’s six hours or less, usually the hospital can start treating it. If it’s outside of that time window, they may or may not be able to treat the patient,” said Hubbard. He said they usually bring a stroke patient to a local hospital first so they can start being evaluated and treated with medication.

In the U.S., from 2016 through 2018, the CDC reported around 73 deaths from strokes per 100,000 adults 35 or older. In Ouachita Parish, the rate is higher than the national average. It’s around 83 deaths from strokes per 100,000 people. Morehouse Parish has the highest rate in the ArkLaMiss with a rate of 124 deaths per 100,000 people.

Hubbard said these numbers could be so high because many people don’t realize they are having a stroke.

“A lot of it is they don’t actually realize what’s going on or they start having a symptom and it’ll just pass. It’s not that big of a deal and then it progresses and progresses and gets a lot worse,” said Hubbard.

Ochsner LSU Health Monroe Medical Center has one neurologist on staff.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael O’Neal, said Ochsner LSU Health Monroe provides telehealth to patients in rural areas and remote neurologists for patients in the ER.

“So our patients will get very quick access to a physician,” said O’Neal. “It’s amazing the capabilities that they have with the cameras and having that physician in the room although remotely assessing the patient quickly.”

O’Neal said he sees the same issues leading to strokes over and over again with patients. He said more preventative care is important.

“Whenever our patients have a stroke, we always look at the risk factors that lead to stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity,” said O’Neal.

“Good history and good preventative health are very important so that’s the reason we’re growing our access to care,” said O’Neal.

O’Neal said at the very least if you feel like you’re having signs or symptoms of a stroke, dial 911. He said the quicker you get evaluated, the less risk of damage.

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