Mobile Stroke Unit To Improve Response Time, Care In Phoenix

By Will Stone
Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 - 3:53pm
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 11:00am
(Photo by Will Stone - KJZZ)
Barrow Emergency Stroke Treatment Unit
(Photo by Will Stone - KJZZ)
Dr. Michael Waters

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.