St. Mary’s certified as Georgia’s first Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center

May 5, 2022

St. Mary’s has become the first hospital in Georgia to earn The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for certification as a Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center. St. Mary’s simultaneously received the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Heart-Check mark for meeting specific standards of care for patients with stroke.

The Athens hospital provides a full continuum of stroke services including emergency care, critical care, rehabilitative services, prevention and education. The new certifications reflect St. Mary’s ability to provide mechanical thrombectomy services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in conjunction with neurological interventional specialists Dr. Neil Woodall and Dr. Feroze Afzal.


Mechanical thrombectomy uses minimally invasive technology to physically remove blood clots from the large blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. These large-vessel blood clots produce some of the most severe strokes and are often too large to treat with clot-busting drugs. When performed soon enough after a stroke begins, removing the clot may restore blood flow, save brain cells that would otherwise die, and reduce the risk of disability and death.


“We are proud to be the first hospital in the state of Georgia to receive thrombectomy-capable certification,” said St. Mary’s President and CEO Montez Carter.


“Our team has been on the forefront of stroke care for more than 20 years,” Carter noted. “These certifications demonstrate our ongoing commitment to staying on the leading edge. Our stroke program has saved many lives and helped untold numbers of people prevent or recover from profound disability. Our new capabilities are already helping even more people continue to lead full and meaningful lives after what would otherwise be a devastating stroke.”


St. Mary’s underwent a rigorous onsite review in early March. During the visit, a team of Joint Commission reviewers evaluated compliance with stroke-related certification standards, including processes and procedures, staff training, and the use of best practices for the safe delivery of care. Joint Commission standards are developed in consultation with health care experts and providers, measurement experts, and patients. The reviewers also conducted onsite observations and interviews.


“Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center certification recognizes health care organizations committed to fostering continuous quality improvement in patient safety and quality of care,” said Mark Pelletier, RN, MS, chief operating officer, Accreditation and Certification Operations, and chief nursing executive, The Joint Commission. “We commend St. Mary’s for using certification to reduce variation in its clinical processes and to strengthen its program structure and management framework for stroke patients.”


St. Mary’s received its first Joint Commission certification as a primary stroke center in 2004, becoming one of the first 20 community hospitals in the nation to be certified. St. Mary’s went on to be certified as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center a few years later and received its first American Heart Association/American Stroke Assocation Get With the Guidelines Gold-Plus award for stroke care in 2010. The hospital has received the AHA/ASA Gold-Plus award every year since.


St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital in Greensboro and St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital in Lavonia are not included in the Joint Commission certification. However, both are designated by the state of Georgia as remote treatment stroke centers. This designation means the hospitals, using telehealth connections with stroke experts in larger communities, have the ability to rapidly evaluate patients with stroke symptoms and administer the clot-busting drug tPA (Alteplase) when appropriate. Patients can then recover at the local hospital or be rushed to St. Mary’s in Athens for mechanical thrombectomy, if necessary.


“We congratulate St. Mary’s for this outstanding achievement,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer, the American Stroke Association. “This certification reflects its commitment to providing the highest quality of care for stroke patients.”




About stroke

Stroke is a medical emergency. It affects about 795,000 people a year in the United States, according to the CDC, and is a leading cause of death and disability. It happens when blood flow to part of the brain is stopped or seriously reduced. In nearly 90 percent of strokes, the cause is a blood clot that gets stuck in a blood vessel, blocking blood flow. This kind of stroke is called ischemic. In the other 10-15 percent of cases, the cause is a torn blood vessel, known as a hemmorhagic stroke.


The type of stroke is important. The clot-busting drug tPA cannot be given to someone with a hemmorhagic stroke because it will make the bleeding worse.


Once blood flow stops, brain cells “downstream” from the blockage quickly become stressed due to lack of oxygen and the build-up of waste products. Within minutes, the brain cells most affected by the stroke begin to die. In the most severe strokes, up to 2 million brain cells may die each minute.


Getting care fast is essential. The longer the flow of blood remains stopped, the more brain tissue dies. tPA and mechanical thrombectomy can restore blood flow and save cells that are stressed, but they cannot resurrect cells that have already died.


“That’s why it is vital for people to call 911 the moment symptoms appear,” says Whitney Barfield, RN, St. Mary’s stroke coordinator. “EMS begins preparing the patient for intervention, treats any emergent needs en route, and alerts the hospital of a stroke patient so that we can expedite treatment. Every second saved saves up to 33,000 precious brain cells. We love our partners in EMS!”


Know how to recognize the sudden signs of stroke: Think BE FAST

Balance – sudden loss of balance or coordination?

Eyes – double vision or loss of vision in one eye?

Face – does the mouth droop on one side?

Arms – does one arm drift downward?

Speech – slurring or difficulty saying the right words?

Time – Time to call 911!


For more information about Joint Commission certification, please visit The Joint Commission website.


For more information about St. Mary’s stroke services, please visit




St. Mary’s Health Care System, a member of Trinity Health, is a faith-based, not-for-profit health care ministry whose mission is to be a compassionate and transforming healing presence in the communities it serves. St. Mary’s puts special focus on neurosciences, cardiac care, orthopedics, general medicine, general surgery, women’s and children’s health, and care for older adults. St. Mary’s includes hospitals in Athens, Lavonia and Greensboro, as well as a multi-practice medical group, a retirement community, outpatient care facilities, graduate medical education, and a region-wide home health care/hospice service. St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens is a certified chest pain center and a gold-plus hospital for stroke care. For more information, visit St. Mary’s website at