A new, in-depth and rather disturbing investigative report from USA Today confirms a devastating trend we’ve seen over the last few years—more and more mothers are dying during childbirth in the U.S. than any other developed country. That’s 26.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births compared to Germany’s 9, the U.K.’s 8.8, France’s 7.8, Canada’s 7.3, and Japan’s 6.4. (In those countries, the maternal death rate has dropped significantly since 1990. Stateside, it has risen.)
Two women die during childbirth everyday in America—700, total, in the calendar year, and 50,000 are left severely injured. What is perhaps most damning is that half of these fatalities could be prevented if hospitals followed basic safety precautions that they are simply not taking, like weighing bloody pads to track blood loss and issuing medication at the first sign of inexplicably high blood pressure. (Hypertension is one of the leading cause of death and stroke among birthing mothers.)
Contacting 75 birthing hospitals and reviewing the case of 150 deliveries, USA Today uncovered some really heinous practices. From the report:
At dozens of hospitals in New York, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas – where USA TODAY obtained 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 some of those hospitals, less than 15 percent of mothers in peril got recommended treatments, the records show.
Many hospitals across the country conceded in interviews with USA TODAY that they were not taking safety steps such as quantifying women’s blood loss or tracking whether moms with dangerously high blood pressure got proper medication in time.
There’s more, broken down into individual disasters:
In Ohio, Ali Lowry bled internally after giving birth in 2013, but medical staff didn’t recognize and act on the warning signs for hours, according to records in a lawsuit that she has since settled. By the time she was airlifted to another hospital for lifesaving surgery, her delivery hospital had nearly run out of blood and Ali’s heart had stopped...
And in South Carolina, one of the state’s top hospitals sent YoLanda Mention home with her newborn despite her dangerously high blood pressure. When she returned to the emergency room with even higher blood pressure and an excruciating headache, the staff made her sit for hours in the waiting room, according to a lawsuit filed by her husband. She had a stroke while waiting, and later died.
These are routine failures as hospitals across the country continue to provide uneven levels of care. Some examples: less than half of the 40 hospitals polled in New York state issued proper medical care through the crucial one-hour window when dangerously high blood pressure levels were reported in mothers. More than 65 percent of mothers didn’t receive adequate care at Secours St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina.
There is a solution, however, and it’s a simple one: provide adequate care, and make sure there are programs in place that hold hospitals accountable.
California is used as the gold standard in the USA Today report. Over the last decade, the state managed to cut their maternal death rate in half by working closely with safety experts and hospitals, collaboratively, to implement “tool kits,” full of “childbirth safety practices to reduce deaths and injuries,” stressing the dangers of high blood pressure in mothers during birth.
There is also the AIM program, which sets deadlines for when to check blood pressure during childbirth, etc.:
[In 2014] a coalition of the nation’s leading medical societies created the AIM Program. The program formalized safety practices that have been shown to reduce maternal injuries into a series of “safety bundles” that detail treatment policies, safety equipment, training programs and internal reviews every maternity hospital should have.
The AIM Program’s “safety bundles” have been sponsored by a coalition of leading medical societies whose members include ACOG, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the American Academy of Family Physicians and groups representing obstetric nurses and anesthesiologists.
The ongoing problem, of course, is getting hospitals to actually implement them.
Read the full report here.