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Bridging the great health divide: Stroke care in Mississippi

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 9:40 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - According to the CDC, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. And every 4 minutes, someone dies of a stroke.

In the rural areas such as the Mississippi Delta, the stroke death rate is above the national average.

Tears begin to flow as Sharkey County resident Sherida Stovall talks about needing help to do simple things now that she has suffered a stroke. She goes to rehab weekly after being paralyzed on the left side her body.

“I don’t like to depend on other people. I like to do for myself,” said Stovall.

But it wasn’t always like this. Snapshots of the 54-year-old before the stroke show her happy and seemingly healthy. Then earlier this year, life changed.

“I went to bed and had to get up about 1:15 and noticed that I couldn’t move my left side at all.”

Stovall says her husband drove her to the small, local hospital in her town and a CT scan was done there that showed she had suffered a stroke. A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is blocked or a blood vessel in the brain ruptures.

The Sharkey County resident was then sent to a larger hospital for more specific treatment, but there were some challenges along the way due to her zip code.

“They couldn’t transfer me by ambulance because that was going to take up too much time, so then I had to stay here in the emergency room until the fog lifted. I was airlifted to Memphis because there wasn’t a bed available, and, of course, we’re still going through the pandemic, but there wasn’t a bed with a neurologist available in Mississippi and some parts of Arkansas.”

Stroke is one of the top five cause deaths in the state. On average, more than 1,700 people in Mississippi die from stroke annually in Mississippi.

And using a national database of people ages 35-64, researchers found stroke deaths rose nearly 2% per year in rural counties between 2013 and 2018.

“A lot of people in our community, they don’t have the resources to get other places to get health care, so they will go without,” said Stovall.

Brantley Pearson is the director of nursing and Beatrice Ivory is an LPN and EMT at the Sharkey- Issaquena Community Hospital in the Delta.

While they do their best to help stroke patients in this area, with limited resources and a small staff they are forced to make difficult, live-saving decisions when it comes to stroke care.

“Once we go out, we get them back to our facility as quick as possible- with oxygen of course,” Ivory said.

“We get them to the CT within 15 minutes and that way we know if it is a bleed or not a bleed and that way, we can give them the clot buster,” said Pearson.

“Then evaluate them here and sent to a higher level of care because we don’t have specialist here in the area. With a stroke, they like to get the patient in three hours.”

In fact, 32% of Mississippians live more than 45 minutes from a hospital certified for stroke care.

“If the state can offer more grants to qualify for- that way, we can have services people here in our community. We are an hour-and-a-half to two hours from a large city to transport someone to have their life saved,” said Pearson.

State Health leaders say Mississippi is continuing to help bridge the gap between underserved communities and quick access to care. UMMC Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Wilson points to Mississippi’s MED-COM Center.

A communications center that services emergency response agencies, hospitals and first responders across the state

“It is up 24/7. It’s staffed by EMTs and paramedics, so they handle patient movements for the UMMC as well as other hospitals around the state, and that’s the center that we use to coordinate a system of care,” said Wilson.

That is not all.

UMMC also provides TelEmergency services in some of the state’s rural and critical access hospitals, connecting their emergency rooms in real time to emergency medicine physicians on duty in the Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

“We have board certified emergency medicine physicians there to back up the nurse practitioner, that’s working in those small rural emergency rooms. So, when they encounter a patient either they know it, or they have suspicion of it, having an emergency condition then they’re able to link into a certified physician that can then walk them through the assessment and then get any resources they might need. Having those processes in place can be lifesaving,” said Wilson.

That is good news to Sherida Stovall as she continues to recover, pray and fight for the life she once enjoyed.

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