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ACMH earns designation as primary stroke center

| Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 12:26 a.m.
SUBMITTED Dr. Bryan Doner, left, stands near the audio/visual telemedicine equipment at ACMH Hospital used for real-time consultations with physicians in UPMC Presbyterian Hospital to help evaluate stroke patients. ACMH Hospital was recently designated as a primary stroke center by the state’s Department of Health. This picture of Doner, the center’s medical director, was taken during a recent training drill with members of the hospital staff.

EAST FRANKLIN — Time is of the essence when a stroke strikes.

Or to put it another way: “Time is brain.”

That's according to William Hamilton, EMS/Safety coordinator with ACMH Hospital. He said the sooner a patient arrives at a primary stroke center, the better their outcome will be down the road.

Which is why ACMH Hospital's new designation as a Primary Stroke Center by the Pennsylvania Department of Health is a vital link in optimal care for stroke patients and their families in the area.

“A big goal of ours is for early intervention,” said Bryan Doner, D.O., medical director of the stroke center.

He said it's important for people to recognize signs of stroke.

“People should be seen even if symptoms seem to be going away or if symptoms seem mild,” said Doner. “Stroke symptoms can be subtle like — I lose vision in one eye or my little pinky gets numb.”

He said clot-busting medication like t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator) must be administered for patients who have suffered an ischemic (caused by a blood clot) stroke within a three to four hour time frame from the first onset of symptoms.

Most strokes tend to be ischemic (about 87 percent) rather than hemorrhagic (those caused by a brain bleed), said Doner.

Making that determination requires rapid diagnostic testing and a trained medical staff once the patient arrives on site — all of which is possible at ACMH.

But even before the patient arrives, trained ambulance personnel using a pre-hospital stroke scale can help save time by evaluating symptoms while en route and can communicate with hospital medical staff the whole way, said Hamilton.

It's for this reason that Hamilton recommends people call 911 rather than driving to the hospital.

Once the patient arrives, emergency room doctors such as Doner can consult in real time with neurologists in Pittsburgh using audio/visual telemedicine equipment.

Doner said doctors at ACMH can have face-to- face video consultations at any time of the day or night with specialists at UPMC Presbyterian to help expedite a stroke patient's treatment.

“It's one of the biggest keys in the process,” said Doner, adding that other hospitals — such as the one he interned with in Erie — had a similar partnership with the Cleveland Clinic.

Even though ACMH Hospital is working clinically with UPMC, it is remaining an independent hospital, ACMH Hospital President John Lewis said on Monday.

According to Anne McDermott, the hospital's stroke program coordinator, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett in May of last year signed into law an Act that enables a hospital to become certified as a primary stroke center if it meets certain criteria — all of which ACMH Hospital has met.

The hospital passed the required certification in March and was approved last week, said McDermott.

“This makes ACMH Hospital the only regional hospital outside of Allegheny County with this designation, she said.

One of the big benefits of having a stroke center in the region is patient care from start to finish, said Doner.

The specially trained staff are there for patients from the moment of arrival until they are discharged, said Doner. They are there from the acute phase to longer-term rehabilitation to arranging outpatient follow-up care.

Last year, 180 patients were admitted to ACMH Hospital's emergency room with signs of stroke, said McDermott.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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