UCHealth Memorial announced today that Memorial Hospital Central has been named a Comprehensive Stroke Center, a designation given only to programs offering the highest and most advanced level of stroke care. Memorial Central is the first hospital in southern Colorado to receive the designation, joining three other hospitals in Colorado — all in metro Denver.

Dr. Daniel Huddle, endovascular neuro radiologist and medical director of the Neuro Endovascular Program at Memorial Hospital Central, was recruited in late 2016 to help with the transition. It took about a year, he said, to put the many pieces in place to earn the comprehensive designation.

Huddle said helicopters transporting stroke victims from south of Colorado Springs used to fly over the city on their way to one of the centers to the north. But the new certification means time saved, which translates to lives saved, he said.

“We were talking about a minimum chopper ride, if all goes well, of 30 to 45 minutes,” he said. “That time was wasted and the patient’s stroke continues to worsen. That’s a huge benefit of having a center here locally.”

Huddle said significant infrastructure investments were made during the transition from a Primary Stroke Center, including constructing and equipping a $3 million angiosuite.

Additional positions were also created in preparation for the certification, Huddle said, to include additional neurologists, interventionalists, neurosurgeons and neuro critical care staff that is available around the clock.

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“Memorial has done a fantastic job … at looking forward,” Huddle said of recent stroke care investments. “The angiosuite alone was a several-million-dollar proposition. Most systems won’t even look at that if the volume isn’t already there. Memorial invested up front. They had the foresight to know those returns will come back soon. The [Diagnosis-Related Group for reimbursement] for stroke patients is quite lucrative.

“But the bigger economic impact will be to the community,” he said. “If the patient can get back to work and go home and prevent a long-term stay in rehab or nursing care — the payout is astronomical in favor of good economics.”

Just more than 200 medical centers nationwide have been named Comprehensive Stroke Centers. Requirements include the ability to provide 24/7 intensive medical and surgical care to treat the most serious and complex strokes — including advanced brain imaging and sophisticated endovascular catheter treatments in which tiny wires break up and remove clots in the brain.

“In achieving this [certification], Memorial Central has been recognized as meeting rigorous standards that will contribute to positive outcomes in stroke situations,” said Dr. Janice Miller, medical director for Memorial’s stroke program, in a Memorial-issued news release. “It is truly exciting that we are able to offer our community here in Colorado Springs — and throughout southern Colorado — comprehensive stroke care close to home, close to their families and close to their primary health care providers.”

Memorial is the second UCHealth hospital to receive Comprehensive Stroke Center certification, joining University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.

According to the release, since becoming part of UCHealth in 2012, Memorial’s neurosciences team has grown more than 530 percent and now includes a team of 57 providers and staff members.

UCHealth also operates the Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit — an “emergency department on wheels” staffed with a specialized stroke team — that can administer rapid treatment in the field rather than waiting for a patient to arrive at a hospital. The MSTU is part of a national research study into the medical benefits of stroke treatments provided by such units.

“It’s exciting for us but it should be more exciting for our patients. If they have a stroke, it’s reassuring to know this is in their backyard,” Huddle said. “On the spectrum of medical emergencies, strokes are on the top rung of sensitivity. Patients no longer have to be shipped out of their own community. They can get treatment here, but they can also rehabilitate in their community, in a place they recognize as home, instead of being shipped out for weeks or months.”