In just over a week, Colorado Springs will become one of a handful of cities in the country to have access to a Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit. The vehicle looks like an ambulance, but operates more like “an emergency room on wheels,” according to Dr. William Jones, medical director of stroke services for UCHealth.

Several entities combined for an exercise using the unit in Memorial Park Aug. 2

As part of a national study, UCHealth will be splitting the stroke unit’s time between the Metro Denver area and, beginning Aug. 11, in Colorado Springs.

“It has a lot of equipment that wouldn’t normally be found on an ambulance, although everything you’d find on an ambulance is also on board this unit,” Jones said of the $1.4 million vehicle.

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Features such as a mobile CT scanner and teleconferencing capabilities set the unit apart. The unit will also feature a critical care-trained nurse and telestroke equipment that allows for remote evaluation of the patient and review of the brain scan by a stroke neurologist.

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The unit will also have a specially trained crew to operate it, Jones said.

“The crew is highly trained to evaluate and care for stroke patients,” he said. “In spite of all the equipment on board, truthfully the crew is the most important part.”

Because treating a patient in a timely manner is essential for victims of stroke, Jones said a matter of minutes can mean the difference between disability and death.

The unit enables the stroke-trained team to quickly evaluate a patient and administer blood clot-busting medication in the field rather than waiting for a patient to arrive at a hospital.

stroke-1“Such swift treatment can be crucial to preserving brain function; with every minute treatment is delayed in a stroke, 1.8 million brain cells die,” according to a news release from the health system.

“This will be a huge benefit for the people of Colorado Springs,” Jones said. “It’s costly for the community, it’s costly for the individual, it’s costly for their family. I think by reducing disability … whatever cost there is to get these into service is worth it, but I also think it will have an economic benefit.”

Reducing the severity of a stroke and preventing disability will allow more people to return to work more quickly if they receive timely care, he said. Jones added there would also be a reduced demand on the health care system and long-term care facilities, and the families of stroke victims, who normally may miss work to care for a loved one, won’t be as impacted.

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Jones, citing recent studies regarding the cost of stroke, said the direct and indirect bill comes in at about $80 billion annually.

“At least two-thirds of that cost are for the acute care after the stroke, the ongoing care,” he said.

Colorado Springs will be the eighth location in the world to utilize the unit and the fifth location in the country.

“The stroke treatment and research delivered by the [stroke unit] is providing a foundation that may change the standard of care for stroke across the country and may result in improved quality of life for stroke patients for years to come. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of adult disability,” according to the release.

The unit will split time between Colorado Springs and Aurora for at least the next year.

More information about UCHealth’s unit can be found in this video link.

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