According to a shocking new USA Today investigation, thousands of pregnant women every year suffer life-changing injuries or die during childbirth because hospital workers fail to perform necessary, and well-known, safety procedures.
Hospital Failures Drive Rise In Maternal Deaths
While the majority of American women give birth without serious incident, approximately 50,000 suffer severe injuries during childbirth. Around 700 women die every year during childbirth. “The best estimates,” USA Today reports, “say that half of these deaths could be prevented and half the injuries reduced or eliminated with better care.”
But instead of tackling these problems, the United States continues to fall behind the rest of the developed world. Today, America is the most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world. In large part, this shocking fact comes as a result of failures on the parts of hospitals and medical workers, mistakes that threaten the lives of both pregnant women and their unborn children.
Many Hospitals Fail To Follow Birth Best Practices
The procedures to save these lives are not complex. They do not require advanced medical technologies. Bloody pads should be weighed at regular intervals to determine how much blood a mother has lost. Medications to reduce maternal blood pressure should be administered within one hour of a spike in blood pressure to reduce the risk of stroke.
It’s not rocket science, according to USA Today. These are simple procedures that well-respected medical associations have been recommending for years. “Yet hospitals, doctors and nurses across the country continue to ignore them,” USA Today writes.
The upshot? American mothers continue to suffer severe injuries, or die, at alarming rates. Some women are allowed to bleed “until their organs shut down.” Cases of high blood pressure are left to progress until mothers suffer a stroke. Or they die of preventable blood clots. Untreated infections are allowed to lay waste. The survivors of these medical failures can be left paralyzed or infertile.
Wide-Ranging Investigation Discovers Key Care Failures
To complete its investigation, USA Today read through over 500,000 pages of hospital quality records. The paper’s team analyzed the cases of more than 150 women whose deliveries were botched. USA Today’s reporters contacted 75 birthing hospitals to find out if they followed recommended childbirth procedures. What they found is unsettling.
“Together, these documents and interviews reveal a stunning lack of attention to safety recommendations and widespread failure to protect new mothers.” At many hospitals in New York, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas – where USA Today was able to obtain hospital records through federally-funded quality programs – “fewer than half of maternity patients were promptly treated for dangerous blood pressure that put them at risk of stroke.” At a number of these hospitals, fewer than 1 in 6 mothers in danger of serious injury received recommended treatments.
Even more alarming, many hospitals in USA Today’s sample admitted in interviews with reporters that their facilities were not using appropriate safety measures to track blood loss or measure whether mothers with high blood pressure received proper medication in a timely manner.
These childbirth failures are not limited to small, rural delivery units. They also take place routinely at major hospitals with state-of-the-art technology and advanced employee training. Attention can also be lacking in doctor’s offices, which may miss or fail to act on symptoms of severe complications during pregnancy and after delivery.
Nation Hasn’t Followed California’s Lead
Things could be different. Even as the United State’s share of maternal injuries and deaths has risen sharply, most countries in the developed world have actually cut down on childbirth complications. The only exception? California, where maternal safety experts and hospitals collaborated to create safety practices to protect mothers from harm. Many of these procedures are now credited by leading medical societies as the gold standard of care. The results have been positive. Over the last fifteen years, California’s maternal death rate has dropped by half, even as maternal deaths rose across the rest of the country.
In spite of widespread agreement that California is getting it right, hospitals throughout the remainder of the nation have been slow to adopt their principles. “It’s a failure at all levels, at national organization levels and at the local hospital leadership levels as well,” says Dr. Steven Clark, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine who specializes in childbirth safety.
To this day, eighteen states of the union still do not study maternal deaths in a rigorous fashion, while others tend to blame the actions of mothers, rather than looking into the conduct of hospital workers who may have been able to prevent disaster.