Minnesota launches effort to improve rural response to strokes

By John Michaelson
Minnesota News Connection

Tuesday, Oct. 29, was World Stroke Day, and stroke continues to be one of the leading killers in Minnesota and across the nation. However, a new effort set to start up in Minnesota in the New Year should mean better care and outcomes there.

Dr. Albert Tsai, director of the Minnesota Stroke Registry Program at the state Department of Health, says the goal of the Minnesota Acute Stroke System is to make sure victims have access to the best treatment available no matter where they are in the state.

“The idea behind the system is that first we are going to be recognizing and designating hospitals who have the capacities and the capabilities that define a hospital that is ready to take care of stroke,” he said.

There are already hospitals in Duluth, Rochester, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities that are certified as primary stroke centers, but Tsai noted that still leaves many people without immediate access to that level of care.

“About a third of stroke patients first go to a rural hospital when they have a stroke,” he said. “That’s not an insignificant number, and so we want to make sure that patients in those communities have access to high-quality and appropriate care for acute stroke.”

Tsai went on to say that the second phase will be addressing protocols for ambulance and EMS workers in the state and the roles they play in the treatment of stroke.

Another way to affect the burden of stroke, noted Tsai, is by educating the public. That’s why the American Stroke Association has launched its “Spot a Stroke FAST” phone app, so people will recognize the symptoms and get help right away because “time lost is brain lost.”

“One of the most important components of receiving the best stroke care possible, is recognizing a stroke,” the doctor said. “And right now less than half of adults can recognize all the symptoms of a stroke and the fact that you should call 911. So, we have a lot of work to do in that area.”

Symptoms include facial drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty.

More information is at bit.ly/1fZWyz4.