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Mobile Stroke Unit To Improve Response Time, Care In Phoenix

Barrow Emergency Stroke Treatment Unit
(Photo by Will Stone - KJZZ)
Barrow Emergency Stroke Treatment Unit

People suffering from strokes won’t have to wait as long to receive critical care in the Valley.

On Wednesday, Phoenix became one of the few cities in the country with an ambulance fully equipped to treat patients for stroke at the curb.

The mobile stroke unit will be operated by the Phoenix Fire Department and has a cat scanner, laboratory and a telemedicine setup.

“With all of those tools, you are able to make a diagnosis and initiate treatment in the field,” said Dr. Michael Waters, who directs the stroke program at Barrow Neurological Institute.

Waters and other physicians at Barrow will be on call around the clock to diagnose and treat patients remotely through real-time video and audio connections.

Time is critical when it comes to strokes. The faster the blood flow to the brain is re-established, the better the outcome. But currently most patients do not receive care within the recommended timeframe and less than 1 percent are treated within an hour.

"That is one of the very difficult hurdles we have to overcome — how to get the patient to the hospital in a very brief period of time," Waters said. "This is going to revolutionize that."

Waters said the vehicle will respond whenever there's a suspected stroke, but an ambulance will also be sent at the same time in case the victim has another medical condition.  

"If we even believe there's a possibility that the individual is having a stroke, we are going to have the mobile unit dispatched," said Shelly Jamison, a deputy chief with Phoenix Fire Department. "We can always turn them around."

The vehicle will be housed at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. With a response radius of 20 minutes, it's expected the unit will be able to reach about half of the stroke patients in Phoenix.

"If it is successful and demonstrates its value, which I anticipate that it will, maybe we will have more than one unit in the future," Waters said.

Stroke is the fifth cause of death in the U.S. and overwhelmingly the leading cause of long-term disability.

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Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.