Chair of Neurology Dr. Dean Naritoku (left) reviews the electrical activity of a patient’s brain with another specialist from USA Health’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Program. (Courtesy of USA Health)
Though it has provided advanced care for several years, USA Health’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Program (SouthCEP) has officially been accredited as a “level four” center — making it one of two facilities in Alabama to obtain the highest designation of the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC).
Epilepsy occurs when nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed and causes seizures. It can be the result of a genetic disorder or be acquired from a brain injury, but the severity of seizures can vary widely from patient to patient. According to NAEC, around 2.7 million Americans are estimated to have some form of epilepsy, and of those, approximately 25-30 percent live without adequate seizure control.
Dr. Juan Ochoa, a professor of neurology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, is the director of SouthCEP, and he said having the highest level of care available in Mobile means patients suffering from even the most severe seizures can be treated locally instead of driving hours to other level four facilities, such as the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) Epilepsy Center and the LSU Health Sciences Center’s Epilepsy Center in New Orleans.
“We are the only center with this level of sophistication in this area,” Ochoa said. “Level four means it is a comprehensive epilepsy program, which means it’s not just a neurologist, it’s a team of neurologists, neurosurgeons, radiologists, neuropsychologists and social workers with expertise treating epilepsy.”
Specialized epilepsy centers can provide routine care to individuals with seizures or epilepsy, and can also specialize in comprehensive treatment for patients with more severe, uncontrolled seizures. Those treatments can range from electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring of electrical activity in the brain to complex neurosurgery.
As an accredited level four center, SouthCEP can serve as a central location for any of those epilepsy services; that has been true for years, actually, despite USA Health only just now obtaining the designation.
According to Ochoa, SouthCEP has been performing a variety of services for patients and expanding its offerings for years. Still, an official level four designation is something only a few hundred hospitals in the country enjoy, and it will make it easier for patients seeking higher-level care to find the center.
“We’ve never pursued the certification before, but we’ve been doing most of this for almost eight years now. A lot of this is about raising awareness of the level of care we’re providing,” Ochoa said. “We’ve been building up the services, but we didn’t necessarily promote it. There have been people [from Mobile] who were still going to UAB because they just didn’t know we’d been doing this here.”
Epilepsy patients seeking more information about SouthCEP or looking to schedule an appointment with one of its physicians can visit usahealthsystem.com or call 251-660-5108.
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