OLYMPIA -- Reducing the amount of time heart attack and stroke patients go without treatment is the goal of the state's new emergency response system.
The system went active last month in Benton and Franklin counties, said Barbara Clarke, executive director of the South Central Region EMS in Richland.
All counties are expected to be active in the system by the end of the year, said Kathy Schmitt, spokewoman for the state Department of Health.
Before the new system was in place, patients often were taken to the nearest hospital and then transferred to a care center better equipped to treat the emergency.
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Emergency medical service providers now will be better able to avoid those wasteful minutes of transfer time that can worsen a patient's condition, said Don Hanna of Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
The Washington State Emergency Cardiac and Stroke System was created by a state law adopted in 2010 with the goal of making sure cardiac and stroke patients get to the right hospital for their emergency in the right amount of time.
Hospitals applied to participate in the system in January and were classified based on their capabilities and resources to treat stroke and cardiac patients, Schmitt said.
According to health department criteria, a Level I cardiac center is able to treat an acute heart attack with angioplasty at any hour or any day of the week.
Kadlec earned Level I cardiac center and Level II stroke center designations. Kennewick General Hospital earned Level II cardiac and stroke center designations.
Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco has plans to join the system and is applying for certification Aug. 11, according to the Department of Health.
Hanna said a network of hospital personnel and EMS pro-viders was working on an updated system long before the state's requirements.
"This has just given us impetus to push it a little further," he said.
* Brier Gabriel, Tri-City Herald intern, 306-754-4225.