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County EMS unveils new stroke response system

on October 27, 2011

Contra Costa County health officials unveiled plans Tuesday to speed up response times for stroke victims in an effort to reduce brain damage and fatalities.

The new system, which will go into effect in early January, would help first responders identify people at risk for stroke, contact stroke-certified medical centers, and transport the victims to the appropriate hospital, all within the critical window for care.

The goal is to get blood thinners to stroke patients as soon as blood clots are discovered in an effort to curb the number of deaths from stroke, which averages nearly 500 cases per year, making it the third-leading cause of death in the county.

“I think the system is important in this (area) because, before we did this, it was a scoop-and-run kind of response,” said Contra Costa Stroke System Coordinator Craig Stroup.

Stroup said first responders and healthcare providers have a four-hour window to treat stroke victims before they are put at risk for brain damage and, possibly, death.

The new system would task the EMS with identifying stroke symptoms, such as slurred speech and blurry vision, and alerting the receiving hospital’s stroke team that a patient will be admitted to their unit. That gives the hospitals time to prepare and bypass admission to the emergency room, where stroke patients are first treated in the existing system, Stroup said. When the patient arrives at the hospital, the stroke team can run CT scans to determine if there is a blood clot, in which case they would administer a blood thinner to prevent further blockage and potential brain damage. About 90 percent of all stroke cases involve clots, and the remaining 10 percent are due to bleeding, Stroup said.

“The system is really (about) getting things organized and getting the patients there rapidly,” he said.

Six hospitals in the county are accredited as Primary Stroke Centers, including the John Muir Medical Centers in Walnut Creek and Concord, Kaiser Medical Center campuses in Walnut Creek, Antioch and Richmond, and Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo.

Hospitals will have to pay $5,000 per year to be part of the program. Costs should be kept low because the care provider positions already exist, although some hospitals may hire a program coordinator, Stroup said.

Stroup said the county plans to start a study on the number of deaths and long-term disabilities affecting patients a year or two after the program goes into effect.

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