New initiative to improve post-acute stroke care across Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota

The American Heart Association, the world's leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health for all, is launching a two-year initiative to expand and enhance post-acute stroke care across Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota, giving all patients the best chance at independent life after stroke.

Made possible with a $1.5 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, this initiative will implement the newly developed American Heart Association Post-Acute Stroke Care Quality Standards program in rehabilitation facilities across the three states, where the Trust recently supported efforts under the American Heart Association Mission: Lifeline® Stroke initiative. Adoption of the program will maximize recovery of function lost during a stroke, reduce risk of secondary effects, and extend high quality guideline-directed care for all patients across their full stroke journey. The Helmsley Charitable Trust previously funded the development and piloting of the Post-Acute Stroke Care Quality Standards program.

Across the U.S., approximately half of all stroke patients are discharged to in-patient rehabilitation, skilled nursing facilities, and long-term care facilities. Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability and more than 11% suffer a second stroke within a year. Yet, post-acute care is often siloed from the rest of the health care system and inconsistent across care delivery settings.

Targeted, high-quality post-stroke rehabilitation interventions, customized to patient needs, can dramatically improve recovery of function lost during a stroke, but current gaps in the system of care can lead to high rates of hospital readmissions, variability in care coordination and sub-optimal outcomes for patients. This new initiative will help to ensure patients receive the most up-to-date science-informed care to improve recovery and reduce disability after experiencing a stroke."

Joel Stein, M.D., volunteer co-chair of the Association's standards writing committee and physiatrist-in-chief and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Irving, California

The new initiative seeks to establish post-acute care as a core component in the system of stroke care. Participating facilities will test the new standards to create benchmarks of success against which facilities nationwide will be able to assess their care.

This work expands on initiatives to strengthen the full spectrum of stroke care through the Association's Mission: Lifeline® Stroke program. Mission: Lifeline Stroke focuses on connecting all components of acute stroke care into a smoothly integrated system that reinforces the use of evidence-based guidelines to timely and effectively treat stroke patients. It brings together hospitals, emergency medical services and first responders, communications and regulatory agencies, state and local government, and payers to forge a proactive system of stroke care that saves and improves lives.

"In my experience as a first responder, I have witnessed firsthand the significant disparities in quality health care available close to home – disparities that demand attention," said Walter Panzirer, a trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust and former paramedic, firefighter and law enforcement officer. "Work like this initiative by the American Heart Association to expand access to care across rural communities is key to ensuring that where you live doesn't dictate the type of care you receive."

Since 2010, the Helmsley Charitable Trust's Rural Healthcare Program has committed more than $65 million to the American Heart Association's statewide Mission: Lifeline projects in the Upper Midwest.

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