MUSC Health retains status as only Comprehensive Stroke Center in Lowcountry

March 31, 2023
People in medical scrubs look at a computer screen showing a brain scan.
Left to right: Nurse Ross Senior, neuro endovascular radiologic technologist Brittany Dean and Dr. Sami Al Kasab look over a patient’s scans. Photos by Sarah Pack

The Joint Commission, a nonprofit agency that accredits health care programs, has recertified the MUSC Health Comprehensive Stroke Center at its highest level. Comprehensive status is only given to hospitals that can treat the most challenging stroke cases.

Christine Holmstedt, D.O., directs the center, which has maintained comprehensive status since 2015. “We were the first in South Carolina, we were the hundredth in the nation to get this accreditation,” the neurologist and Medical University of South Carolina professor said.

“Having a Joint Commission Comprehensive Stroke Certification means that we exceed all of the required benchmarks for quality of care and exceptional commitment to care, not just for our community but the entire state of South Carolina. We are able to care for the patients with the most complex cerebral vascular disease issues.”

Christina Blake, nurse program manager for the center, said the recertification process is thorough. “It’s always a very interesting time to have someone come in and pick apart the program and make sure that we’re meeting all the standards and measures that we can for our community. It’s over 500 standards we have to meet for an entire program. And then there are over 25 metrics that they take a deep dive into, looking at the data that we produce, looking at how are we providing that evidence-based care.”

Group of smiling people stands in front of emergency department. 
Members of the stroke team, left to right: Nurse Kevin Jacks, nurse practitioner Sarah Creed, nurses Marisa Cobiella and Courtney Pickard, nursing development professional and specialist Jaci Furlano, nurse program manager Christina Blake, Dr. Katherine Scarpino and Dr. Jessica Decker.

MUSC Health has the only Comprehensive Stroke Center in the Lowcountry and is one of just four in the entire state, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control. It cares for patients not only on its main campus but also in MUSC Health hospitals throughout the state and other hospitals via telehealth.

Blonde woman wearing sleeveless black top smiles for a portrait. 
Dr. Christine Holmstedt

Holmstedt said operating as a Comprehensive Stroke Center requires teamwork. “This isn’t about me. This isn’t about Christina. This is everybody who even touches the stretcher of a stroke patient and is involved in their care because everything is down to the minute. Everything is practiced. It’s a commitment by every single person in the institution so that we can be as good as we are.”

It also takes a commitment to research. The South Carolina Research Studies Directory shows multiple stroke studies underway at MUSC. “Research in general offers patients that would not have particular treatments available to them the chance to receive potential treatments through clinical trials,” Holmstedt said.

The Joint Commission noticed her team’s commitment to clinical trials. “This year they really highlighted our focus on research and having research studies for every single stroke patient that gets admitted to MUSC or that gets seen in the outpatient clinic.”

She and Blake hope the attention the certification brings will remind people of the risk of strokes in general. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a stroke as “a brain attack, occurs when something blocks blood supply to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.”

Symptoms include:

  • Trouble with balance or coordation.
  • Sudden blurred or double vision or loss of vision.
  • Drooping or numbness in the face.
  • Arm weakness.
  • Speech difficulty.

Anyone with those symptoms should get help immediately. That includes people who have symptoms that are transient, meaning they don’t last. Transient ischemic attacks are considered warning strokes.

Holmstedt said taking care of all patients, whether they have TIAs or complex strokes, requires a commitment to excellence. “It’s just an absolute honor to take care of stroke patients. When they do really well, it’s just the best. There’s no feeling like it."

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