A bombshell article recently published in USA TODAY uncovered surprising information about the maternal mortality rate in the United States. Writer Alison Young researched four years for the piece “Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it,” which revealed the startling news that the U.S. is now the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth.
It may seem unlikely, but it’s true. Every year, more than 50,000 mothers suffer birth injuries during or after childbirth. Around 700 mothers die. The worst part is that at least half of these injuries and deaths are preventable. The study also found that when things go wrong during or post-childbirth, hospital staff and medical professionals don’t always act quickly enough to prevent serious injury to the mother.
The maternal injury and mortality rates in the U.S. have been steadily climbing, and, according to the article, in 2015 it reached 26.4 per 100,000 births—the highest in the developed world. The only exception USA TODAY found was the state of California. Their hospitals and medical experts worked together to implement safety practices, and have cut their maternal mortality rate by 50%.
Even with California’s success, the rest of the country has been slow to implement these practices. “Our medicine is run by cowboys today, where everyone is riding the range doing whatever they’re wanting to do,” said Dr. Steven Clark, a childbirth safety expert and professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “While there are hospitals that follow best safety practices, change is happening slowly,” he said. “It’s a failure at all levels, at national organization levels and at the local hospital leadership levels as well.”
America’s mothers are at risk
USA TODAY reports that regulatory and oversight groups that have the authority to require hospitals to implement better safety procedures just aren’t doing anything. “The lack of action by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to protect mothers stands in sharp contrast to its more aggressive approach to trying to improve care for elderly Medicare patients,” USA TODAY reported.
In order to get Medicare payments, hospitals are required to disclose complication rates related to hip or knee surgeries, and whether or not heart attack victims were given prompt care. And even though Medicaid helps pay for nearly four million births a year, they don’t do the same for childbirth complications.
Common complications during and after childbirth
There are two common complications related to childbirth—hypertension and hemorrhaging. USA TODAY found that 60% of maternal deaths caused by hypertension and 90% of deaths caused by hemorrhage were preventable if action had been taken earlier.
Lives could be saved if medical staff took more preventive actions like administering medication earlier, and more accurately measuring the mother’s blood loss during and after delivery. With hypertension, medical protocol calls for treatment within 60 minutes. Only 31 hospitals told the newspaper that they use this protocol. Out of those 31, only nine said they keep records on how often the protocol is actually followed. As for blood loss, in the majority of women, staff only visually estimates blood loss on pads. This can be extremely dangerous, especially in cases of internal bleeding.
The article highlighted a story about a 24-year-old mother named Ali Lowry who had to have an emergency hysterectomy due to hours of internal bleeding after the birth of her son. At one point, Ms. Lowry’s blood pressure dropped to 52/26, which is a sign that she was losing a life-threatening amount of blood. The hospital did not act until it was too late, and Ms. Lowry nearly died. She and her husband sued and later settled with the hospital.
USA TODAY also obtained recordings of a 2015 closed-door training session with the American Hospital Association, where they seemed to acknowledge the issue. “We’re not talking about a Third World country, we’re talking about us, here,” a trainer said. “This shouldn’t be happening here.” The trainer also said that most of the deaths “were absolutely preventable.”
Both you and your child deserve the highest standard of care during and after labor and delivery. If you were injured during childbirth, talk to a birth injury lawyer today.