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UF Health to launch Florida’s first fleet of specialized ambulances to improve stroke care

Press release from UF Health

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To improve stroke outcomes for Floridians, UF Health is launching a statewide network of mobile stroke treatment units — specialized ambulances equipped to speed diagnosis and treatment.

Every second matters when it comes to stroke care, as faster treatment can save lives and limit long-term effects.

The first new mobile stroke unit will be housed in Gainesville and is expected to be deployed by July 2023. Soon after, UF Health will add an additional unit in Central Florida in The Villages, and, later, mobile stroke units in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County. Only 20 mobile stroke programs are currently operational nationwide.

“UF Health is committed to improving clinical treatment advances for patients, and mobile stroke treatment units will do just that, providing faster and more specialized care to those who suffer a stroke, a condition in which time is of the essence for better outcomes,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health.

UF Health’s mobile stroke units will include a diagnostic CT scanner, clot-busting drugs such as tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, medications given intravenously to lower high blood pressure, medications used to reverse the effects of bleeding inside the brain, and telemedicine equipment. Ambulances will be staffed by a team that includes a stroke-trained health provider, a CT technician, an EMT driver and paramedic, as well as a stroke neurologist (available via telemedicine).

By deploying to the patient, the team can begin treatment while in transit to the nearest available stroke center, saving critical moments to reduce long-term disability from the stroke.

Studies show improved clinical outcomes for stroke patients transported via mobile stroke unit versus a standard ambulance, including an increased likelihood of receiving tPA within an hour — the Golden Hour, when it’s most effective — and a higher probability of avoiding disability following treatment.

“As an American Heart Association Gold Plus-rated and Joint Commission Comprehensive Stroke Center, we are the highest-level stroke center in the region. We are always looking for innovative ways to enhance our patient care efforts,” said Brian Hoh, M.D., chair of UF’s Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery. “The mobile stroke treatment unit allows us to bring stroke care to the patient and save precious time in our efforts to preserve brain function.” 

Gainesville’s mobile stroke unit will be staffed 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and will provide service within a 30-mile radius.

“Quickly reaching areas that aren’t in close proximity to comprehensive stroke centers will have an immediate and significant impact on stroke outcomes in our region,” said UF Health Shands interim CEO Jim Kelly.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in Florida. Known risk factors include hypertension, heart disease, smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol. But stroke can also strike unexpectedly, and more than a third of people who have a stroke are under age 65.

“Stroke is the primary cause of serious long-term disability and the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S.,” said Anna Khanna, M.D., medical director of the UF Health Shands Comprehensive Stroke Center. “Everyone should be aware of the acronym ‘FAST’ to help identify if someone is having a stroke: facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties, and time to call 911.”

“If you notice someone having any of these signs of stroke, call 911 immediately,” she said.

When a stroke is suspected, both EMS and the mobile stroke unit will be dispatched simultaneously. The stroke team will conduct a neurological evaluation, and if the results are consistent with stroke, treatment will begin immediately.

The launch of UF Health’s mobile stroke treatment unit network is driven largely by philanthropy, which will be crucial to sustaining operations and potentially expanding to other areas of the state. A $1.5 million commitment from an anonymous donor spurred planning for a Gainesville-based unit. This was followed shortly by an additional $1 million contribution from The Villages Hospital Auxiliary Foundation to support construction of a unit that eventually will be stationed in The Villages.

  • Did anyone check with Mayor Ward to make sure these units would benefit the community?

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