American women are needlessly dying or sustaining life-changing injuries when giving birth. Although a majority deliver without compilations, each year, at least 50,000 are severely injured, with up to 700 losing lives during birth.
Why is this happening in a developed country, in the 21st century? Can’t the deaths be prevented? Do we have to lose lives at birth?
The best estimates show that at least half of maternal deaths can be prevented. Unfortunately, healthcare givers aren’t doing enough to save the situation.
USA Today recently conducted a study, harrowing through more than 500,000 internal quality records of 75 birthing hospitals and spoke to more than 150 women whose deliveries turned disastrous. The revelations were beyond shocking.
In New York, Pennsylvania, North, and South Carolina, less than half of maternity patients receive treatment for blood pressure, leaving them at risk of stroke. In some hospitals in these regions, only about 15 percent of patients get recommended treatments. In other hospitals around the country, healthcare givers openly admit to not taking safety precautions such as checking patients’ blood pressure or ensuring that mothers with dangerously high pressure received proper medication.
Astonishingly, these incidences happen everywhere, including state-of-the-art hospitals that boast modern technology and training. They also happen inside physicians’ offices, where doctors frequently forget or knowingly ignore signs of serious complications before, during, and after delivery.
In South Carolina, for example, Yolanda Mention was sent home with her newborn despite obvious signs that her high blood pressure put her life at risk. When she later returned to the emergency room with even higher blood pressure, she was again made to sit for hours in the waiting room. As expected, her condition worsened quickly. She suffered a stroke while waiting, and later died, according to a lawsuit filed by her husband, Marco.
Today, Marco has to raise three kids on his own in rural Nesmith. A school driver by profession, he cooks the meals, cleans, and gets the girls to school – all alone.
He sometimes recalls Yolanda and admits that it all feels like a bad dream. “It seems like a nightmare,” he told USA Today with tears in his eyes. “Sometimes the girls ask when she’s coming home and I don’t know what to tell them.”
A similar story is told by Ali Lowry who narrates a horrifying ordeal that nearly took her life. The Ohio resident also went to one of the state’s big hospitals for delivery in 2013. The delivery wasn’t so smooth; she suffered heavy internal bleeding – a condition that can be taken care of even in community health centers. Yet, she had to wait hours to receive the medical attention she urgently required.
By the time her delivery hospital diagnosed her with heavy internal bleeding, the hospital had run out of blood! Her heart stopped and she had to be airlifted to another hospital for lifesaving surgery. Unimaginable!
The saddest part about all this is that doctors and hospitals, in general, know what they need to do, but choose not to act appropriately.
For more than a decade, experts who guide medical practitioners in the country have been telling the practitioners what to do in every possible situation. But it appears like very few hospitals bother to listen.
For instance, researchers in California have since 2010 promoted safety “tool kits” for childbirth to prevent deaths and reduce injuries. These kits, created after years of published research, include policies, procedures, and checklists designed to help save mothers’ lives.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has also repeatedly warned caregivers about the dangers of high blood pressure in maternal mothers. In 2011, the group had a widely publicized campaign warning that high blood pressure above a certain limit, if not treated expeditiously, can cause maternal death. They even gave hospitals and doctors step-by-step instruction on how to attend to maternal patients with high blood pressure and went as far as to specify drugs that could help.
Then, there was the famous AIM Program, organized by the nation’s leading medical societies (including ACOG, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the College of Nurse-Midwives, obstetric nurses, and anesthesiologists) to formalize safety practices that can help reduce maternal injuries. Rolled into “safety bundles,” these practices detailed treatment practices, safety equipment, training programs, and important internal reviews that would help maternity hospitals improve patient safety and by so doing reduce injuries and deaths.
Among others, AIM recommended set time deadlines for taking blood pressure readings and administering medication to maternal patients.
Yet, despite all that effort, the USA Today study shows that only a handful of hospitals and doctors stick to these guidelines. In 40 maternity hospitals in New York, less than 50 percent of women experiencing visible signs of high blood pressure got proper treatment. In Pennsylvania, data from about a dozen hospitals show that only 49 to 67 percent of mothers receive necessary care.
In South Carolina, one hospital, Bon Secours St. Francis located in Charleston, gave proper care to only 65 percent of pregnant mothers. Meanwhile, at Alamance Regional Medical Center in North Carolina, more than 52 percent of maternal patients with high blood pressure did not receive proper treatment.
This carelessness and obvious ignorance at hospitals and among doctors has left painful scars on many victims and remain a frustrating thought among maternal mothers.
While some past patients praise the care they received, many recount the ordeals in pain and can’t bear the thought of going though the trauma a second time.
“This was supposed to be the happiest time in my life,” says Susan Goodhue of Annapolis. “Yet, it turned out to be the worst. The staff, by not knowing and not taking precautions, almost killed us. Nobody should go through that during the birth of their child.”
Most women who talked to USA Today broke down in tears when they remembered the excruciating pain and the fight to survive. Many still don’t understand and haven’t got an explanation from their hospitals or doctors on why they had to endure all that suffering.
“I still don’t know what caused all the bleeding that necessitated an emergency hysterectomy in 2005,” says Zakiya Bell-Rogers of Ashville, North Carolina. “I need to know what happened. It must have been a mistake on their end.”
Even with clear evidence of negligence, neither hospitals nor doctors are taking blame or giving indication of changing how they work. Instead, maternal patients are being criticized for everything, from not eating healthily to being overweight and everything in between.
It all points to a situation where things could get worse before they get better. Read the full story in USA Today.
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