Ambulance may not take you to closest hospital if you’re having a stroke

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Beginning Monday, if you have a stroke in Missouri, the ambulance may not take you to the closest hospital. It will take you to a stroke center designated by the state to have the personnel and equipment to treat this medical emergency.

A few weeks ago, one side of Jerry Parish's face suddenly drooped. His wife asked if he was okay.

"I asked him again and again, about six times, and he wouldn't answer, so I just picked up the phone and called 911," said Mary Parish.

Parish was having a stroke. A large area of his brain had no blood flow.

Paramedics first took Parish to the closest hospital where they decided he needed to be transferred to Saint Luke's Hospital for treatment to pull out the blood clot that was causing the stroke.

Parish's story shows how the new Time Critical Diagnosis System in Missouri will work. There are four levels of stroke centers. The ambulance will take a patient to the closest stroke center. In Parish's case, it was St. Mary's Hospital in Blue Springs, a level 2 center. If it's determined the patient needs a higher level of care, he's transferred to a level 1 center such as Saint Luke's on the Plaza.

Under the new system, if the closest hospital isn't a stroke center, the ambulance will bypass it.

"We've seen that when people get to this higher level of this definitive care, specialized care, that we have better outcomes," said Tom Collins, a deputy chief with the Kansas City Fire Department.

But what if you want to go to the closest hospital even if it's not a stroke center? You have a right to do so.

"Now I'm going to tell you the reasons you probably should go to a stroke center," said Collins.

The goal is to prevent disability and death by getting patients to quality care quickly. But that can only happen if you call 911.

"If you drive yourself in and don't call 911, then the hospitals are not as ready for you to be there," said Angela Hawkins, the stroke program manager for Saint Luke's.

It all worked well for Parish.

"Everybody I've talked with cannot believe that I had a massive stroke," said Parish.

He has no disability.

The following hospitals in the Missouri metro told FOX 4 that the state has designated them as stroke centers:

Level I
Research Medical Center
Saint Luke's Hospital (Plaza)

Level II
St. Mary's Medical Center
St. Joseph Medical Center
Centerpoint Medical Center
Lee's Summit Medical Center
Saint Luke's East Hospital

Level III
Belton Regional Medical Center
Saint Luke's North Hospital

The following hospitals told FOX 4 they are NOT designated stroke centers: Truman Medical Center Hospital Hill, Truman Medical Center Lakewood, Liberty Hospital, North Kansas City Hospital.

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