Located in what’s known as the national Stroke Belt, an inordinately high number of Polk County residents suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, poor diets, sleep apnea and other stroke-related risk factors. The Livingston-area population is also at a higher risk of stroke due to the large number of retirees.
Armed with staggering statistics, the Memorial Medical Center-Livingston stroke program has been underway for the past year through the joint efforts of neurologist Robert Fayle, M.D., stroke program coordinator Emilia Ruiz, RN and stroke educator Mary Norris, RN.
The staff at Memorial Medical Center-Livingston is working to become a primary stroke center certified by The Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization which accredits health care organizations across the nation.
By educating the hospital staff and surrounding community and with the help of a Memorial Hermann Healthcare System grant, the Livingston staff hopes to achieve the certification by 2013.
The entire Memorial clinical staff has received education on the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Monthly learning opportunities are available to the staff, as well.
In order for Memorial Medical Center-Livingston to become a certified primary stroke center, the hospital must have a neurologist on staff 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Through the Memorial Hermann grant, a high resolution telemedicine camera is now operational in the Livingston emergency department allowing for two-way communication between physicians in Houston and Livingston.
“A stroke neurologist in Houston’s Medical Center is able to examine a patient in Livingston’s emergency department even though he is 75 miles away,” Fayle said. “It’s truly amazing. I had been skeptical of telemedicine until I saw it, but with this robot, the physicians in Houston can see exactly what I am seeing. It approximates what you would have with another neurologist at the bedside in a matter of seconds.”
In January 2012, the hospital installed a state-of-the art 128-slice CT scan that within just seconds can scan a patient for a wide range of medical conditions, including stroke. The rapid and overall clearer images allow physicians more time to administer life-saving treatments.
With the capability of sending digital CT images to Houston, physicians can make an appropriate diagnosis, especially if tPA administration is necessary. Tissue Plasminogen Activator, or tPA, is a clot-busting drug most commonly used for patients experiencing a ischemic stroke, or a blood clot in the brain. Memorial Medical Center-Livingston successfully increased its administration of the life-saving drug over the past year, and therefore, more patients are able to stay in Livingston for treatment rather than being transferred to Houston.
Local emergency services personnel have pledged to bring stroke victims to the Livingston emergency department rather than transporting them by medical helicopter. The closest primary stroke center is more than 45 miles away in any direction.
“You aren’t benefiting the patient by flying them out of Livingston. You’re wasting valuable time, and time means brain,” Memorial Medical Center-Livingston Administrator David LeMonte said. “We want the opportunity to treat those patients and put into practice the staff’s extensive education.”
The program has also been reaching out into the community, educating Polk County residents about the signs and symptoms of stroke. Community education events, including health fairs, and most recently, a special presentation to the Women’s Power Lunch at Memorial, will continue until as many residents as possible are educated.
Despite the complicated process of becoming a certified primary stroke center, Fayle, Ruiz, Norris and the entire Memorial Medical Center-Livingston administration say saving lives is more than worth it.
The people in this community need and deserve the same kind of care as what you can get in other places where this technology is available, Fayle said. We need a level of service that's appropriate, and it's not right to withhold that from our community just because we happen to be a small town. That's why we're doing all we can to provide this for the residents who surround our hospital.