WVU Medicine Neurology nearly doubled in size in the past year

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – WVU Medicine celebrated the grand opening of a dedicated Neurological Critical Care Unit (NCCU) at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital today (April 11). 

(From left to right) Clay Marsh, M.D., executive vice president for WVU Health Sciences; Matthew Smith, M.D., director of neurocritical care; Alison Wilson, M.D., director of the WVU Critical Care and Trauma Institute; David Watson, M.D., interim chair of WVU Medicine Neurology; and David Libell, M.D., WVU Medicine neurologist, tour the new Neurological Critical Care Unit at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital.

The unit, which began receiving patients in January, includes 10 beds staffed by fellowship-trained neurointensivists who specialize in identifying and treating neurologic disease.

“Neurologic disease is something we don’t have good tests for other than having someone at the bedside who knows that they’re looking at. The main thing that we bring is that expertise in examining the patient,” Matthew Smith, M.D., director of neurocritical care, said. 

Patients are known to do better in a specialized unit under the care of staff who are trained and experienced in that field. Neurological intensive care units are a novel concept in healthcare, only recently becoming common in academic medical centers around the nation. 

“This critical care unit really sets us apart,” Alison Wilson, M.D., director of the WVU Critical Care and Trauma Institute, said. “This dedicated approach to neurocritical care allows us to provide the best available care for patients who need neurological intensive care.”

Opening the NCCU is also the last piece needed for the WVU Stroke Center to achieve the designation of Comprehensive Stroke Center from the Joint Commission, a goal the center hopes to achieve in 2017. 

The WVU Stroke Center already functions much like a Comprehensive Center, which meets standards for the most complex stroke cases and is prepared 365 days a year to deliver advanced stroke care. Comprehensive is the highest of three stroke designations certified by the Joint Commission. In October, the Joint Commission evaluated WVU Medicine as a Primary Stroke Center – its second-highest designation – but confirmed that it is in position to earn Comprehensive status soon.

WVU Medicine Neurology has grown substantially in the past year. In addition to opening the NCCU, the department has expanded its already robust telestroke program and nearly doubled in faculty size.

The department is recruiting physicians into the state to expand the services currently offered, while also building up its neurology residency program to train the next generation of neurologists.

Since July, seven new specialists and sub-specialists have joined the department, and four more will arrive by the end of July. Additionally, six neurology specialists passed their subspecialty board examinations. 

By the summer, the department will have 21 specialists and subspecialists in areas including headache medicine, vascular neurology (stroke), epilepsy, sleep, neuromuscular, and neurocritical care. 

“We don’t want there to be a pocket in West Virginia that can’t see a neurologist in a timely manner and get the care that they need,” David Watson, M.D., interim chair of Neurology, said. 

As part of that mission, the WVU Stroke Center provides stroke services throughout the state using telemedicine. WVU has pioneered telemedicine to improve access to specialized care in underserved areas since 1992, when WVU Medicine physicians began offering telemedicine for many conditions, including stroke.

Rapid evaluation and treatment is vital to preserving brain function after a stroke, but in a rural state, the nearest stroke center may be hours away. Through telestroke, patients come to their local emergency department and are evaluated by a WVU Medicine stroke specialist who conducts a simple exam via video conference and examines an electronic copy of the patient’s imaging. The physician can then make treatment recommendations for medications or transfer for more advanced stroke care.

The telestroke program currently serves four hospitals throughout the state and western Maryland, with agreements signed or in development with several additional facilities.

“We are looking at ways to expand access to neurological care beyond the campus in Morgantown,” Dr. Watson said. “Telestroke is expanding rapidly, and the growth in our department has opened the door to new possibilities, such as developing teleneurology services more generally, or possibly placing specialists in other areas around the state. It’ll be exciting to see where the needs and the technology take us.”