SEBASTOPOL -- Palm Drive Hospital has been certified as a primary stroke center, making it only the second hospital in Sonoma County to earn the distinction, hospital officials announced today.

Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa is the only other such hospital in the county that meets the criteria set forth by the American Stroke Association and the American Heart Association.  The distinction comes from the American Osteopathic Association, which in its letter to Palm Drive granted level 1 primary stroke certification.

“The reason this certification is so critical and important is because we now know that time -- the time between when one has a stroke and when care commences -- is absolutely critical to a person’s ability to recover from a stroke,” said Nancy Dobbs, president of Palm Drive’s board of directors.

The hospital said its medical personnel have received advanced training in stroke care and the deliverance of clot-busting drugs, and neurologists are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A stroke patient can be diagnosed and treated within one hour of arriving at the emergency room, besting the standard rate of three hours, according to the hospital.

“Someone who’s had a stroke needs to go to a hospital that has all the framework in place to get them the drugs they need or the surgeon they need within a very short, specified time frame,” said Karen Cauthen, the hospital’s chief nursing officer. “We had to prove we can do that time and time and time again.”

The distinction for the 37-bed hospital comes amid a tumultuous past three years, during which the hospital filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy and cycled through several chief operation officers. Just two weeks ago, the hospital emerged from bankruptcy after selling off $11 million in bonds that repaid a county loan and numerous creditors. It had previously been beset by more than $6 million in operating losses in 2007. A $150 per-parcel tax was enacted to help keep the hospital afloat, which generated approximately $3.5 million a year.

The hospital also announced a new CEO, Mike Lieb, who replaces interim CEO Neil Todhunter.

The hospital said stroke distinction means it not only provides vital emergency care for strokes, but it also can help in “preventing secondary complications common to stroke and with post-stroke rehabilitation and education.”