The medical staffs at many hospitals and other health-care facilities allegedly are failing to follow simple safety procedures, resulting in a stunning number of fatalities and serious injuries.
USA Today reported that the victims are women giving birth. An investigation by the newspaper revealed that doctors and nurses often do not pay attention to how much blood their patients are losing, and take too long to administer drugs that lower high blood pressure.
Sometimes, the bleeding leads to organ failure or the hypertension causes strokes. In other cases, patients die due to blood clots or infections. There have been instances in which women have been paralyzed, or become unable to have additional children.
The annual death toll exceeds 700, while another 50,000 patients suffer injuries. That makes the United States “the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth,” according to USA Today. Many of the tragedies are unnecessary and easily preventable. Experts estimate that hospitals could cut the number of fatalities and injuries in half by ensuring that their staffs abide by proper safety protocols.
Medical facilities are not required to report how many of their patients experience severe complications during childbirth. USA Today arrived at its conclusions by analyzing more than 500,000 pages of hospital records, interviewing more than 150 women, and asking 75 birthing facilities about their safety practices.
The records showed that less than half of the mothers at dozens of hospitals in New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina received the recommended treatment for high blood pressure. At some of the facilities, fewer than 15 percent of patients were properly treated.
A number of officials at clinics, doctor's offices and hospitals admitted that their staffs were failing to follow procedures for combatting blood loss and hypertension. Some facilities have been sued for their incompetence.
Two of the plaintiffs, Ali Lowry of Ohio and Beatriz Garcia of Texas, claimed that their hearts stopped beating after hours of internal bleeding while under the care of hospital staffs. Garcia needed a hysterectomy and a new kidney.
YoLanda Mention of South Carolina also had extremely high blood pressure, even after leaving a hospital with her baby. When she returned for treatment of a pounding headache, she sustained a fatal stroke in the waiting room.
While childbirth deaths and injuries continue to increase in the United States, the statistics in other countries are declining because of better patient monitoring and care. California is bucking the trend by having safety experts examine hospitals' practices. The state has slashed its maternal fatality rate by 50 percent. Sadly, other states are not learning from this example.
“Our medicine is run by cowboys today, where everyone is riding the range doing whatever they’re wanting to do,” said Dr. Steven Clark of the Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s a failure at all levels, at national organization levels and at the local hospital leadership levels, as well.”
One of the problems is poor oversight and regulation. Some authorities are blaming the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for not forcing medical facilities to institute necessary safety rules.
Advocates are pressuring the federal agency to protect mothers in the same way it safeguards Medicare patients. To qualify for Medicare reimbursement, a hospital must report complications in hip and knee surgeries, as well as heart-attack treatment, involving elderly patients. Because about half of U.S. childbirths are covered by Medicaid, the same scrutiny could be applied to maternal patients.
Medical facilities are required to report cesarean section procedures to the Joint Commission, a non-governmental accreditation organization. However, the commission does not collect data on treatment errors that cause childbirth complications.
“For us to make it a requirement for every organization to follow something, there has to be clear national consensus that this is the standard of care,” Dr. David Baker, a commission official, explained. “I suspect within the next two months, there will be a decision on whether to go forward.”
The American Hospital Association has responded to the crisis by sponsoring webinars for medical providers. “What we know about those deaths is that most of them were absolutely preventable,” a trainer at one of the sessions said. “They were from causes that we could have done something about. We could have prevented it if we had recognized the emergency early on.”
Studies indicate that up to 93 percent of the women who have bled to death while giving birth had not been correctly monitored for blood loss. Another webinar trainer cited research showing that most of the deaths resulting from hypertension could have been prevented “because we failed to control the blood pressure or to recognize other emergencies that were happening.”
The trainer added: “We’re not talking about a Third World country. We’re talking about us, here. This shouldn’t be happening here.”