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A Deeper Dive into the Rise in Maternal Death—When Hospitals Blame Mothers

Last summer, USA Today unveiled results of an investigation into the shockingly high rates of maternal mortality and injury in the U.S. The investigation revealed that more than 50,000 mothers are severely injured during the labor and delivery process, and up to 700 mothers die each year due to childbirth complications. Dubbed “the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth,” the U.S. has fallen far behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to maternal care. Perhaps most eye-opening, however, is that half of these adverse outcomes could have been prevented. Hypertension and hemorrhaging were among the top causes of preventable maternal death reported in the investigation.

This year, USA Today delved into another aspect of maternal death, analyzing billing data from 7 million births from 13 states and finding that complication rates were at least double the norm in one out of every eight hospitals. According to the analysis, hospitals have historically blamed the increase in maternal deaths and injuries on reasons out of their control—namely, due to poverty and pre-existing medical problems, placing blame on the mothers. However, data collected in USA Today’s database shows that delays in providing care, failures to follow proper safety measures, and misdiagnosis contribute heavily to America’s maternal death epidemic.

Where in the U.S. are Maternal Death and Injury Rates Highest?

In USA Today’s analysis, severe maternal morbidity (SMM) rates were studied in 13 states, with the highest rates seen in Louisiana. Other states with high SMM rates include California, New York, Texas, and Kentucky. In 120 hospitals—about one in eight of the hospitals studied—women experienced potentially deadly deliveries at least twice as often as at the typical hospital.

Particularly, this investigation showed that maternity complications occurred with high frequency at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, compared to most hospitals. At Touro, a 21-year-old mother passed away following delayed care by medical staff after the premature birth of her son. Another expectant mother showing signs of infection after a stillbirth was given tests administered by trainee doctors—later determined to be of questionable merit—and ended up needing to have her hands and legs amputated. Another woman nearly bled to death after doctors in training performed a C-section. Touro is one of the 120 hospitals studied where mothers suffer severe complications at far higher rates.

Investigating the Causes—and Excuses—of Maternal Death

Touro, along with many other hospitals in the analysis, serves a predominately black community.

Nationally, black mothers suffer severe complications twice as often as white mothers, and are dying from childbirth at three to four times the rate of white mothers.  Touro, in a statement to USA Today, noted it serves a “medically vulnerable” patient population and that “[l]ifestyle diseases, the high cost of healthcare, delaying or non-compliance with medical treatment, limited care coordination, poor health, high rates of poverty and high rates of morbidity…” impact the community they serve.  Safety advocates find the hospital’s response troubling as it appears to place the blame on the mothers instead of the medical care provided by the hospital.

Comparing demographics from cities with high poverty rates and larger black communities, SMM rates were not always the same.  Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, a hospital surrounded by poverty whose patients share similar race and Medicaid status as Touro, has a 1.4% rate of childbirth complications, matching the norm across the U.S. Compared to Touro’s 2.8% rate of childbirth complications, it is evident that patient demographics such as race and poverty may not play as large a role in SMM rates as some hospitals purport.

Additionally, at Touro and the hospitals with the highest SMM rates, all mothers experienced life-threatening deliveries more often. At the outlier hospitals, complication rates were higher for mothers with health insurance, and white mothers had a three-time higher likelihood of experiencing potentially fatal complications at the same hospitals.

Out of the 120 hospitals studied, almost half are training sites for OB/GYN residency programs—and half of those hospitals have poor accreditation histories that include probations, warnings, or both. Just outside of New York City, Westchester Medical Center has a maternal complication rate double that of New York’s state average, and three times the median of all hospitals examined in the investigation. “Here, all are considered high-risk,” the communications director of the hospital said. Westchester Medical, like Touro, is primarily a teaching hospital where the majority of patients have underlying medical problems.  At University Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, where the SMM rate is 6.9% (more than four times the median of hospitals studied), officials explained that its patients were uniquely complex.  It is time that hospitals are held accountable for their high SMM rates instead of blaming the mothers to which they provide care.

What Should I do if I lost a Loved one During Childbirth?

If you lost a loved one during the labor and delivery process, please call us at 877-262-9767. An experienced, caring birth injury attorney can discuss your potential claim with you. We offer free consultations.

The following reviews from our clients do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of another legal matter. The cases mentioned in the reviews are illustrative of some of the matters previously handled by Grant & Eisenhofer involving various areas of birth injury law. These reviews are endorsements.

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The following reviews from our clients do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of another legal matter. The cases mentioned in the reviews are illustrative of some of the matters previously handled by Grant & Eisenhofer involving various areas of birth injury law. These reviews are endorsements.

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