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The challenges of providing certified stroke care to rural Wisconsin

NBC15 Investigates looks into the resources available locally for stroke care.
Published: Aug. 8, 2021 at 11:38 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In Wisconsin, access to expert stroke care is something health officials continue working to expand.

Around 800,000 people suffer strokes every year. Strokes cut off blood flow to part of the brain. The sooner that blood flow is restored, the more the brain can heal.

When a person has a stroke, every minute matters and getting them the care they need is crucial to saving their life.

There is an added challenge when the person lives a far drive from the nearest certified stroke center. Since much of Wisconsin is rural, this sits at top of mind for health officials.

In the Madison area, there are several certified stroke centers providing expert access to care. This includes, SSM Health, Meriter, and UW-Health.

“Certification in stroke care is something that is helpful in terms of making sure that we have good protocols in place and that we have the high speed response to take care of these specific patients,” said Natalie Wheeler.

Wheeler is the Medical Director for Telestroke at UW Health and Assistant Professor for the School of Medicine and Public Health. She says Outside of larger Wisconsin cities, expert stroke care is not readily available.

“The resources often concentrate in larger towns and cities,” said Wheeler. To bridge the gap and better serve patients in rural areas, UW Health is one several organizations throughout the state that has a program for tele-medicine and tele-stroke care.

“Loosely defined, that’s using any kind of audio or video means to assist with the assessment of a patient.” Wheeler says it allows doctors at UW Health to bring neurological expertise and stroke trained experts to the communities that need it.

“We have sites that have video connection where we can actually assess patients over the video in real time,” said Wheeler.

UW-Health officials saya bringing that expertise to local providers helps them make time-sensitive decisions to get the patient a higher level of care.

UW-Health’s telestroke site opened in 2009, one of the first in Wisconsin. There are several active sites and new ones being added. “I think it’s a really valuable relationship with our partners in the community,” said Wheeler.

At SSM Health, stroke care is provided at all its hospitals through the emergency department. For advanced stroke care, SSH Health St. Mary’s Hospital - Madison is a Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Center.

A spokesperson for SSM Health told NBC15 that when it comes to stroke care, quick intervention is essential.

NBC15 Investigates looked into this issue after our national investigative team found that there are many parts of the country where people have to drive a long way to get the right care after a stroke. Click here for the full story.

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