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Most Americans are within an hour of stroke care, but access is worst in the Mountain West

An illustration of a brain inside someone's head
American Heart Association

News Brief

About 96% of Americans now live within an hour of potentially life-saving stroke care, according to new research. But those who don’t are most likely to be in the Mountain West.

Only about 1% of people in the Mid-Atlantic are more than an hour away from stroke care, either in person or using telehealth. In the Mountain West, it’s 9% -- the highest in the nation.

“Stroke care is time-critical,” said study lead Kori Zachrison, who’s an associate professor of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “There are interventions we can do for the patients, but they depend on getting to the patients within a certain amount of time from when their symptoms started.”

Some in the Mountain West may never be within an hour of care because their homes are so remote. And Zachrison says small hospitals often can’t afford specialists or special equipment for every rare circumstance.

However, she also says that, if possible, these hospitals should prioritize a telehealth platform that can grant them access to several kinds of specialists.

“And we can use it for the stroke patient and we can also use it for the patient that is suicidal and needs to connect with a psychiatrist,” she said.

Zachrison says the hardest hit from a lack of access are usually the elderly, Native American communities and those with lower incomes.

The Mountain West has long been plagued with poor cell service and even worse internet access, often putting telehealth out of reach.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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