LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in Louisiana.
In Southwest Louisiana, there are two certified Primary Stroke Centers, and quick access to health care for those patients is vital to prevent future issues or even fatal results.
”We’ll have patients come in from three-hour drives away sometimes,” said Christus Ochsner St. Patrick Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Matthew Hanudel.
For many people, a stroke is a life-changing experience that typically involves a long and difficult recovery.
“Especially at the height of the pandemic, and still a little bit now as well, we’re seeing more people not coming in right away when they have symptoms of stroke,” Dr. Hanudel said.
At Christus Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital, Dr. Hanudel says COVID-19 has played a factor in the number of strokes he treats on a daily basis.
”I’ll probably see at least one stroke a shift on average, and we have three shifts today, so that’s a pretty high number.”
At the same time, deficiencies that existed in stroke care before the pandemic are now more evident, such as convenient access.
According to the CDC, in Louisiana, 19 percent of people live more than a 45-minute drive from a certified stroke center, and only 37 percent are within driving distance.
”Really severe strokes we transfer out to New Orleans where they have another primary stroke center that has more options and interventions that we can’t handle here,” Hanudel said.
Hanudel says sometimes the more severe cases require a certain doctor that is not always accessible in rural areas. Since becoming a Joint Commission Certified Center, Christus Ochsner St. Patrick has made critical advancements in the types of treatment offered to local stroke patients.
Hospitals can choose to apply for specialized stroke certification through different organizations. The most popular certifications are through the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, DNV, and HFAP. There are four levels of certified stroke centers shown in the pyramid below.
Both Christus Ochsner St. Patrick and Lake Charles Memorial have also increased access to stroke care by adding a TeleStroke program that virtually connects stroke patients with specialists for more immediate care.
According to CDC data, someone has a stroke in the United States every 40 seconds, and someone dies from a stroke every four minutes. More national statistics are available here from the CDC.
Looking at health indicators and disease rates in the nation, the Appalachian and Delta regions have particular trends that indicate greater needs for change in health care and access to information and care.
- The national average for stroke deaths in adults 35 and older is 72.6 people per 100,000 residents (data from CDC 2016-2018).
- Of the 662 counties classified as Appalachian or Delta by the federal government, 551 (83 percent) have stroke death rates above the national rate.
- If you look at all other U.S. counties combined, 55 percent have rates higher than the national.