NAPLES - Physicians Regional Healthcare System has been designated a comprehensive stroke center to better respond to Southwest Florida, which is known as the "stroke belt," hospital officials said Tuesday.
The designation from the state Agency for Healthcare Administration culminates months of work and financial investment in equipment and staffing, and means Physicians Regional is the only comprehensive stroke center in the region and one of 18 statewide.
Comprehensive stroke centers must provide highly specialized stroke care treatment from the moment that hospital staff is notified by paramedics of an incoming ambulance patient to an array of life-saving surgical treatments. That includes having a stroke response team on standby at all times and able to respond to neurological emergencies within 15 minutes.
"With Southwest Florida being referred to as the 'stroke belt,' we had a responsibility to commit to major investments in both time and resources to ensure that the best possible care can be obtained at our facility," Todd Lupton, chief executive officer of Physicians Regional, said in a press release.
Physicians from throughout the region may send patients to Physicians Regional because of its advanced stroke treatment capabilities.
The risk of stroke increases as people age; it doubles every 10 years over the age of 50. Women are more vulnerable than men and someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds in the U.S., according to the American Stroke Association.
In Collier and Lee counties, the average age of residents is over 50.
A comprehensive stroke center also must offer and excel in elective treatments of brain aneurysms and malformations, as well as intervention for blocked carotid arteries and brain arteries before stroke can occur.
"Time is brain; every hour of stroke you lose 120 million brain cells," said Dr. Eric Eskioglu, director of Physician Regional's neurovascular and stroke program. "Life- and brain-saving techniques can be employed only while brain tissue is viable. The most effective way to treat these complex cases is to create a truly coordinated multidisciplinary team that unites experts from all fields."
Until now, patients with acute stroke and ruptured brain aneurysms had to be transferred to hospitals in Miami or Tampa, and that means losing treatment time, he said.
Physicians Regional began working on the designation earlier this year and invested $3.5 million for the region's only dedicated hybrid neuroendovascular surgical suite.
The surgical suite can handle minimally invasive intervention procedures and switch focus to handle traditional neurosurgery if an emergency arises for patients with strokes caused by blocked blood vessels or by a brain aneurysm.
Dr. Brian Mason, who heads up the hospital's neuroendovascular surgery program, has worked with radiologists to develop a CT angiogram so treatment can be started quickly for an improved outcome.
Physicians Regional also has been selected to take part in a Joint Commission's six-month pilot study to evaluate the core measures used for designating comprehensive stroke centers. Another 82 hospitals nationwide will take part.
"Through participation in the pilot program, our team will play an even more critical role in the quality and effectiveness of stroke care," Lupton said.
Besides having to have a stroke response team available 24/7, Physicians Regional has the only dedicated neuro-intensive care unit in the region, and post-discharge care includes case management, education programs, and stroke support groups.