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Pilot program a stroke of luck for patients

CCFES Chief Landry Merkison

CCFES Chief Landry Merkison

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The late U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell

RIVERDALE — Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services is one of a handful of providers participating in a pilot program to provide faster treatment of stroke victims.

The department will partner with Southern Regional Medical Center in the Coverdell Stroke Initiative to educate the community and ensure faster, more effective treatment to those experiencing a stroke. The program is named for the late U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, a Republican from Georgia who died in 2000 following a massive stroke.

Fire Chief Landry Merkison said the selection is an achievement for Clayton County.

“This is a great honor for Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services and one that our elected officials and citizens can be proud of,” he said. “Clayton County employs the best firefighters, EMTs and paramedics in the state and this is indicative of their hard work and dedication to the citizens of this county.”

The department and hospital will play a vital role collecting data in the early treatment of stroke victims, said Merkison.

The initiative hopes to improve the care of acute stroke patients in the hospital setting. Southern Regional is one of the first hospitals in the Southern Crescent to be named as an advanced primary stroke center, due in part to its “unique ability to manage stroke care,” said Kim Anda, manager of Stroke Care at SRMC.

The hospital’s stroke program staffs one neurosurgeon and three neurologists, and two community neurosurgeons and three community neurologists. Together with a highly-trained nursing staff and well-integrated emergency medical providers, the facility’s stroke care capabilities thrive, Anda said.

“This is why Southern Regional has consecutively been awarded the American Heart/American Stroke Association’s Gold Plus Award for the past four years,” she said.

Participation by CCFES started some years back, in educating First Responders, EMTs and paramedics to quickly identify early signs of a stroke in patients calling 911.

“The department was the first EMS agency to partner with the hospital in the effort to recognize and treat strokes as quickly as possible, efforts that led to a change in protocols practiced by both the department and the hospital,” said Merkison. Knowing that getting patients treatment by administering lifesaving tissue plasminogen activator, known as t-PAs, drugs used to treat blood clots in the critical three-hour window from the onset of a stroke, EMS personnel in the field are able to work with hospital personnel in determining the proper course of action needed to treat stroke patients, he said.

“By expediting their time spent in the emergency room and getting them to CT scan faster, patients have a better chance of survival,” said Merkison.

The partnership allows the best treatment of more patients than even larger hospitals.

“The synchronicity that exists between Southern Regional Medical Center and Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services allows us to treat more patients with thrombolytics — medicine used to dissolve blood clots — than many larger facilities that on average see more patients,” said Anda.

Rapid treatment of stroke is paramount when attempting to reduce the adverse effects of a stroke event in patients and to ensuring a positive quality of life after recovery, said Merkison.

“A partnership such this between hospitals and pre-hospital emergency medical providers is essential to making sure rapid treatment occurs,” he said. “The data collected in this initiative will be used to better educate the community not only here in Clayton County, but throughout the metro area and beyond.”

Several factors played a role in the selection of Clayton County for the pilot program, said Keith Wages, director of the Georgia Office of EMS and Trauma.

“Clayton County Fire and EMS was selected because of its exemplary training program, dedication to improving stroke care to its residents, excellent relationships with area hospitals, and the commitment of the fire department’s senior leadership to local, regional and state EMS systems,” he said. “Not only will Clayton County Fire Department’s participation in this pilot improve the stroke care system for the residents of Clayton County, but also will serve as a role model for other EMS agencies across the state.”

For more information on CCFES, access website at www.ccfes.org or contact Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Public Affairs at 770-472-8170.