Senator Kirk Outlines Stroke Agenda

Legislation Targets: Stroke Care, Rehab and Research with Goal of Return to Work

CHICAGO – Since suffering a stroke almost two years ago, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has seen first-hand the disparity in rehabilitation and overall care for stroke survivors. Today Senator Kirk outlined his agenda to transform the way researchers, doctors, therapists and hospitals care for patients with neurological disorders and injuries through a series of comprehensive initiatives that unify, standardize and improve quality of care.

“As a stroke survivor, I know better than most the roles stroke research and rehabilitation play in helping patients return to work and lead fulfilling lives,” Senator Kirk said. “Right now there are too many differing practices among rehabilitation networks, resulting in a scattering of resources. It is my mission to optimize the entire rehabilitation system to give others the opportunity to have the absolute best quality of care possible.”

“Senator Kirk’s remarkable recovery serves as an example of what is possible with great care, and we at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) are pioneering such care and setting standards across the world for others to benefit from,” said Dr. Joanne Smith, president and CEO of RIC. “The Senator’s efforts to improve care for all Americans serves to emphasize the vital role rehabilitation plays in recovery from serious medical conditions.”

Standardizing Rehab Across Care Centers
Currently, no national standard of care for stroke survivors and persons with neurological disorders or injuries exists. Researchers, universities, doctors and therapists have their own policies for how they train, educate and administer rehabilitation programs. Differing levels of rehabilitation mean that patients do not always receive uniform standards of care across hospitals, and rehabilitation practices can vary widely between doctors and specialized therapists.

The Kirk-Johnson Rehabilitation Improvement Act (S.1027) would create a national standard of care by reducing duplication in research within institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The legislation would correct the lack of intra-communication by establishing a working group to combine and streamline rehabilitation priorities.  In addition, the lack of standardization and coordination at the NIH prevents patients at hospitals across the United States from receiving the best care possible. The Rehabilitation Improvement Act would spur future research by promoting interagency cooperation and modernization to reflect the recent growth and need for new, innovative therapies.  Over 30 national rehabilitation groups support the Rehabilitation Improvement Act.

Expanding Access to High-Quality Rehab
Under current law, not all patients have access to high-quality rehabilitation care. Often, rehabilitation facilities that use innovative research to provide high-quality care are the last resort for individuals that have distinctive, complex rehabilitation needs.  S.1220, the Preserving Rehabilitation Innovation Centers Act sponsored by Senators Kirk and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), would expand access to high-quality rehabilitation for veterans, paraplegics, children, those who suffer from stroke or traumatic brain injury, and other patients whose conditions require unique, complex therapy.

Returning to Work
Stroke-related medical issues and lasting physical disabilities make returning to work difficult for many stroke patients. Senator Kirk introduced S. 1026, the Return to Work Act of 2013, with the goal of highlighting job resources for individuals needing help returning to their former professions.

“The most important part motivating me throughout my rehabilitation was wanting to return to work,” Senator Kirk said. “I want to help motivate others to do the same so they can return to their previously productive lives following a major health event.”

Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in America. According to recent data released by the American Heart and Stroke Association, 45-64 year olds are expected to see the highest increase in stroke in the coming years. Among survivors who were working at the time of their stroke, only about half are able to reenter the workforce within one year. Of the approximate 800,000 Americans who survive stroke each year, only about one-third ever reenter the workforce. Intense physical and occupational therapy are critical in helping people learn how to live full lives after stroke.

Timeline of Senator Kirk’s Stroke and Recovery
In January 2012, Senator Kirk suffered an ischemic stroke. The stroke, which stemmed from a blockage that prevented blood flow to the brain, required two operations to relieve the swelling in his brain. Senator Kirk remained at Northwestern Memorial until February, when he was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and was enrolled in a unique research trial as part of his rehabilitation. The trial focused on improving gait pattern through an intense regimen of continuous walking over flat surfaces, on stairs and on a treadmill every day. After nearly a year of intensive recovery and rehabilitation, Senator Kirk returned to work by climbing the 45 steps of the U.S. Capitol on January 3, 2013.