UCLA stroke unit

UCLA Health's Mobile Stroke Unit arrived in Long Beach on Monday, July 15.

A mobile service that aims to speed up care for stroke patients is coming to Long Beach, county officials said.

UCLA Health’s mobile stroke unit — an ambulance with special equipment for treating strokes — operates as other emergency response services, but is able to help patients who experienced a stroke more quickly.

The philanthropic and county-funded pilot program has been expanding since it started in 2017, but is also coming to Long Beach, where public officials celebrated its launch in the city Monday, July 15.

“So far it’s been a terrific experience,” said Dr. May Nour, medical director of the UCLA Arline and Henry Gluck Stroke Rescue Program. “We’ve identified patients in the field who need a higher level of care procedures, and we’re able to get this treatment to them much sooner than it would take to get to the hospital.”

Strokes, which are caused by blood clots or brain bleeds, deprive the brain of oxygen-rich blood. They are the fifth leading cause of death and a top contributor to long-term disability, according to UCLA.

What makes the mobile stroke unit different from an average ambulance is that it is equipped with a mobile CT scanner, blood-testing laboratory, neurologist, critical care nurse, CT technologist and paramedic. It’s the same treatment that a patient would receive at a hospital, Nour said, but they’re able to receive it much sooner before being taken to a hospital.

“It’s important because time loss is brain loss,” she added. “This is crucial for patients.”

UCLA Health’s mobile stroke unit, when it started in September 2017, was the first of its kind in the state. UCLA Health teams up with local fire agencies by offering up their services when they respond to stroke calls.

But none of the cost is on the local cities or fire departments — or the patients themselves.

“None of the activities are billed, or paid for, by the patient,” Nour said. “Including the physician time, staff time, the labs, cost of medication — everything is already funded (by the county and donors).”

So far, there is only one mobile stroke unit that is being shared throughout the county. Long Beach will become a part of the program’s southern section, which includes nine other cities such as Signal Hill and Cerritos. There’s also a western section, which includes Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

The unit’s time is divided up per geographic section. The southern section, for example, will be receiving service for two alternating weeks out of each month, Monday to Thursday, on a 10-hour schedule daily.

An eastern section will be added to the unit’s coverage area soon as well, Nour added.

But the goal, if the program continues to be successful, is to eventually expand the number of mobile stroke units so that all areas of the county can benefit from the service.

“Everything at the end of the day is the cost,” Nour said, “but as we prove that this is a helpful therapy for patients, then those costs may one day be supported.”

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