There are few events more exciting than giving birth to a baby. For many, the birth day is the greatest day of their lives, and they cannot wait to get home and start life with their newest member of their family.
But not all birthdays go according to plan. Sometimes, it’s the mother who is in the greatest danger – a danger made all the more tragic because for many mothers, the risks were totally avoidable.
A recent USA TODAY investigation uncovered that “each year, more than 50,000 [mothers] are severely injured [while giving birth]. About 700 mothers die. The best estimates say that half of these deaths could be prevented and half the injuries reduced or eliminated with better care.” The researchers looked into half a million medical documents and spoke with 75 different birthing hospitals and about 150 different women.
Their final assessment? “Together, these documents and interviews reveal a stunning lack of attention to safety recommendations and widespread failure to protect new mothers.”
Preeclampsia and post-partum hemorrhage
The primary focus of the USA TODAY investigation focused on two conditions: preeclampsia, or high blood pressure in the mother, and post-partum hemorrhage, or excessive bleeding by the mother after childbirth.
Preeclampsia is a fairly common condition, affecting 1 in 20 pregnancies (give or take). As long as a woman exhibiting the signs of preeclampsia is diagnosed in a timely manner, and then monitored throughout her pregnancy and during childbirth, the chances are really good that she and her baby will both be fine. But if a mother is not diagnosed – if a doctor or nurse misses the signs, or ignores what a mother has to say about how she feels – preeclampsia can lead to some very, very serious complications which can put mother and child at risk. Those complications include:
- Eclampsia, a seizure disorder which can lead to a mother’s brain being damaged
- HELLP syndrome, which can lead to a mother’s organ failure
- Heart disease in the mother
- Placental abruption, where the placental is pulled away from the uterus
- Oxygen deprivation for the fetus while in utero
With the exception of heart disease, which may only prove fatal to mother, each and every one of these complications can prove fatal to the baby.
The other condition is post-partum hemorrhage, or PPH. While all mothers bleed after childbirth, PPH is an excessive amount of blood. If a nurse or doctor fails to accurately track how much blood is being lost, the mother may not be diagnosed with PPH until it is too late. PPH can lead to severe drops in blood pressure, causing the body to go into shock. It can prove fatal to the mother.
Failure to diagnose PPH is an act of post-partum negligence: doctors, nurses and midwives should be on the lookout for the signs, and should be accurately determining how much blood a mother loses for up to 12 weeks after she’s given birth.
Why are so many mothers dying from preventable and treatable conditions?
The USA TODAY investigation found that “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.”
In other words, the hospitals weren’t doing their jobs. They weren’t monitoring these women. They weren’t listening to these women, when they told their nurses and doctors that they thought something was wrong. They weren’t taking accurate reports of how much blood a new mother had lost.
Why not? Because no one is making them do it.
Unlike with other patients seeking care for other types of conditions or needs, there is no set of regulations uniformly instituted for childbirth. USA TODAY puts it this way:
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.
As a condition of getting Medicare payments, the federal agency requires hospitals to disclose information such as complication rates for hip and knee surgeries and whether heart attack patients got prompt care. All of that information is posted online.
That same agency helps pay for about half of the nation’s nearly 4 million births each year via Medicaid, and it could set similar rules about childbirth complications.
So far, it has not.
Because of this, and because hospitals can and do assess conditions like preeclampsia and post-birth bleeding in whatever ways they see fit (as opposed to following a set of regulations and compliance procedures, such as those California put into place), mothers are dying needlessly. America is the only developed nation in the world where maternal mortality rates are rising. Out of all the developed nations on the planet, only Brunei and Argentina have maternal mortality ratios higher than ours, which has risen to 26.4 out of every 100,000 births.
How do Ohio and Kentucky compare to the national average?
Between 2012 and 2016, 22.9 (out of every 100,000) Kentucky mothers died during or after giving birth. In 2015, between January and September, 116.3 out of every 100,000 mothers sustained injuries in childbirth. In Ohio (during those same time periods), the maternal death rate was 19.2 out of every 100,000 births, and the maternal injury rates was 118.3 out of every 100,000 births.
What can we do to protect new and expecting mothers?
The first thing you can do is find a doctor who has admitting privileges at a hospital, not a birthing center. You want to make sure you are prepared in case something goes wrong before, during or after labor.
The second thing you can do is be an advocate – for yourself or for your loved ones. If something doesn’t feel right, or if you think you’re being ignored, find another person who will listen to you. Keep talking until someone answers, and do not be afraid to stand up for yourself. You have the right to your own health information, so ask your doctors about your blood pressure, and about what it should be. If your wife, sister, mother, or other loved one is bleeding and she thinks it’s too much, demand someone measure the amount of blood she has lost. You have the right to have your voice heard.
Finally, contact your local, state and federal representative. Tell them that, as an advocate, you demand that something be done legislatively to help protect new mothers and their babies.
Crandall & Pera Law has built its reputation on upholding the rights of the injured in Ohio and Kentucky, and we won‘t back down now. If you or your loved one sustained serious injuries because of labor and delivery negligence, or if you lost a family member because medical personnel failed to do their jobs, then it’s time to let us do ours: fighting for justice for you. Please call 877-686-8879 or fill out our contact form to schedule a no-obligation consultation with an attorney who cares about you and your family’s future.