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Mercy Hospital has earned a new, upgraded certification as a comprehensive stroke center, becoming the first hospital in the region to be so designated by the Joint Commission accrediting organization.

The designation from the Joint Commission reflects advances in stroke treatment and identifies stroke centers with state-of-the-art equipment, staff and training to offer complex procedures 24 hours a day.

“You have to be able to treat the most complex cases,” said Holly Bowser, vice president of neurosciences for Catholic Health.

“The accreditation sets standards and best practices,” Bowser said.

So far, three hospitals in New York State, including South Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital, have gained the Joint Commission’s higher comprehensive certification.

The stroke program for Kaleida Health – which in 2012 consolidated its heart, stroke and vascular care services into the Gates Vascular Institute on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus – is accredited by a different organization, Det Norske Veritas Healthcare Inc., or DNV.

Kaleida Health expects DNV to survey its stroke program, one of the busiest in the state, later this month as part of Kaleida’s effort to gain DNV’s certification as a comprehensive stroke center.

Catholic Health and Kaleida Health compete for stroke patients and, like other facilities nationwide, use accreditation as a marketing tool.

Catholic Health quickly touted Mercy’s new designation on a billboard near the medical campus, not far from Kaleida Health’s stroke center in the Gates Vascular Institute.

The Joint Commission and DNV, following guidelines established by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Brain Attack Coalition, introduced their upgraded designations in 2012. A comprehensive center is a step up from a primary stroke center.

The Joint Commission has certified 66 stroke centers across the nation as comprehensive, said Elizabeth Zhani, a commission spokeswoman.

Requirements for the comprehensive designation include a dedicated neuro-intensive care unit, round-the-clock availability of procedures to clear clots and seal off aneurysms, and use of advanced imaging equipment.

A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen to the brain ruptures or clogs. The disease ranks as the fourth-leading cause of death in the country, with the Western New York death rate higher than average.

After a stroke, as time passes, more brain cells die. That lessens the chance that a treatment will prevent disability or death.

And that’s why medical experts recommend people become familiar with stroke symptoms, such as sudden numbness in a limb or face and confusion. “The message patients need to learn is that time is brain,” Bowser said.

Stroke center designations can be confusing.

Hospitals can use different independent accrediting organizations, such as DNV and the Joint Commission, to be named a primary or comprehensive stroke center. In addition, the state designates some hospitals as simply “stroke centers” based on its criteria.

The Joint Commission has been the dominant hospital accrediting agency in the nation. In 2008, the federal government approved DNV as another agency to review hospital operations.

Many hospitals also use accreditation to demonstrate their compliance with federal requirements to obtain reimbursement for treating Medicare and Medicaid patients.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com