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Don’t Delay Emergency Stroke Care

ThedaCare Stroke Coordinator Says Early Intervention Critical for Improved Outcomes

NEENAH, Wis. – Hospitals and emergency medical facilities nationally are reporting a significant decrease in the number of patients presenting with stroke symptoms during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, with 140,000 deaths resulting. Strokes – especially ischemic strokes, which block blood flow to the brain – are the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., per the CDC.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied stroke presentations at more than 800 hospitals across 49 states and the District of Columbia between March and April 2020 and discovered that stroke patient numbers dropped by as much as 40 percent. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“We’ve seen a similar decrease in the number of patients presenting with strokes here at the Stroke Center at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah,” said Kristin Randall, ThedaCare Stroke Coordinator. “Between March and April of this year, we saw a 20-30% drop in the number of patients coming in with stroke symptoms.”

Randall said there are likely a few reasons for the decrease in cases.

“One theory is that people took the state’s stay-at-home order quite literally and didn’t go to the hospital or contact their doctor,” said Randall. “We also understand the fear people may have of contracting COVID-19 in a hospital during the pandemic. We want to assure the public, hospitals and clinics are safe places if you need to receive emergency care.”

She said the lower stroke numbers are concerning because that means some people may not be receiving the care they need and or may be missing out on important interventional treatments.

“The likelihood that the number of strokes decreased that much in this short of time is low,” she said. “That leads many of us to believe that with people isolating from others, stroke symptoms are not being recognized by the person suffering the stroke or noticed by someone else because fewer people are visiting one another.”

doctor and patient looking at x-ray

ThedaCare is certified as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, reflecting the highest level of competence for treatment of serious stroke events. The certification affirms that ThedaCare addresses the full spectrum of stroke care – diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and education – and establishes clear metrics to evaluate outcomes. With stroke care, it is important to have the best teams and resources, and the ability to act organizationally with extreme efficiency because of the time-critical nature of these events.

“With a stroke, time is brain. Strokes are an emergency,” said Randall. “The quicker a stroke victim gets to the hospital, the more treatment options we have. When early symptoms of health conditions are ignored, they can worsen quickly and lead to lasting damage that may have been lessened by immediate treatment.”

Randall suggests that during this continuing pandemic, family, friends and neighbors should check on each other.

“We’re seeing people in their 40s, 50s and 60s coming in with strokes, so it’s not just the elderly,” she said. “We all need to watch out for one another and notice if someone is exhibiting the signs and symptoms of a stroke.”

Stroke symptoms can be easily identified by using the acronym B.E. F.A.S.T.:

  • B – Balance – is there a difference in their balance?
  • E – Eyes – are they having vision difficulties?
  • F – Face – do they have a facial droop on one side?
  • A – Arm – are they having weakness in an arm/leg, particularly on one side of their body?
  • S – Speech – can they talk normally; are they more confused?
  • T – Time – Time is brain; call 911 immediately if you suspect a stroke.

“It’s important to be aware of what the stroke symptoms are and call 911 immediately if you suspect someone is having a stroke,” said Randall. “If you’re speaking with a friend or family member and notice any of the B.E. F.A.S.T. symptoms, get medical attention quickly.”

Again, Randall reiterates the safe care available to patients and families.

When patients arrive at the emergency department, screeners will greet them at the door. Patients will be asked for a temperature check and to wear a mask – for their safety and the safety of others. ThedaCare team members have gone to great lengths to make our emergency department safe so we can provide lifesaving care. Those steps include:

  • Our physicians, nurses, caregivers, support staff and infectious disease experts continue to stay informed with the latest information and treatment protocols to make sure we are ready, prepared and accessible at anytime, anywhere our community needs us.
  • Patients are screened prior to entering the ED so they are directed to the right care areas quickly and isolated if presenting respiratory symptoms.
  • We are following or exceeding the CDC’s protocols and guidelines for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as well as the Wisconsin Department of Health.
  • We are limiting visitors to minimize the risk of exposure.

“We work hard to keep our patients safe every day, and we want those who think they are having a stroke to feel safe at our hospitals, especially during this time,” said Randall. “Again, time is of the essence in treating a stroke, and treatment options decrease the longer someone waits to come to medical attention. Stroke is the leading cause of disability in this country. Delaying emergency care is not an option, and all members of the community should know they can turn to our team for safe emergency care.”

Editor’s Note

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, please call your primary care provider FIRST and team members will help direct you to the appropriate care. The community can also use the online symptom checker which can be found at thedacarecovid19.org, or call the COVID-19 Community Line, 920.830.6877.

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care

Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.

For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.