Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of disability. In Delaware, where the disease affects about 1,200 residents each year, the state is seeking to encourage its hospitals to be designated primary stroke centers. The idea is that staffs in designated facilities move faster and perform better than those in other hospitals, making up for any extra minutes a patient spends on the road. Under the new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, hospitals designated as primary stroke centers by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations will receive a similar designation from the state. To be certified, hospitals must demonstrate that they meet the highest standards for treating stroke patients. Such standards include having a neurologist on staff, the ability to take CT scans around the clock and a staff capable of administering appropriate medications upon a patient's arrival at the emergency room. Currently, there are no hospitals in Delaware with designated stroke centers, but Delaware is the fifth state -- along with Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey -- to certify hospitals as stroke centers. Only about 500 of the nation's 5,000 acute-care centers have received accreditation, and backers of this law hope it is only a prelude to a law that would require that ambulances take stroke patients to hospitals with certified stroke centers.