Most hospitals across the U.S. are not implementing basic safety practices that could prevent maternal deaths during childbirth, according to the findings of a USA Today investigation.
Journalists analyzed data from more than a half-million pages of internal hospital records, more than 150 cases of women whose deliveries went badly, and contacted 75 hospitals across the country about safety practices used to prevent maternal deaths during childbirth.
The new USA Today report indicated more than 50,000 women are suffering life-altering injuries after childbirth and more than 700 women die during childbirth every year. At least half of these injuries and deaths could be prevented.
According to the records for hospitals in New York, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, less than half of mothers were quickly treated for dangerous blood pressure levels that put them at risk of preeclampsia and stroke.
The investigation comes following a report published in 2017 which warned that many hospitals are unprepared to treat preeclampsia; pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.
The World Health Organization indicated women in the U.S. were four times more likely to die during childbirth than women in Poland, Greece, or Iceland. The United States is one of the only developed nations whose maternal mortality rate increased over the last two decades while maternal mortality rates decreased in other developed countries.
Another report published in 2016 indicated maternal death rates in the U.S. were worse than every other industrialized nation, with the exception of Mexico.
No Standard of Care
There is no national tracking system for childbirth complications. California is the only state in the U.S. to approach the maternal mortality epidemic head on and implement childbirth best practices. As a result, maternal death rates in California dropped, while the rest of the country’s increased.
Despite safety experts recommending the use of these new best practices established by the California AIM program, more than a decade of medical studies, warnings, and advice, most hospitals ignore the best practices.
The Joint Commission that sets safety standards for thousands of hospitals indicated they had yet to determine if the AIM protocols are “appropriate for the commission to require at the hospital level,” even though they are proven to save lives.
During a closed session at the American Hospital Association in 2016, the association indicated 93% of women who bled to death during childbirth could have been saved if hospital staff were aware of how much blood a woman had lost.
Researchers concluded timely treatment after childbirth was given only 10% to 67% of the time in various hospitals, according to 2015-2016 hospital records studied for the report. Stanly Regional Medical Center in North Carolina had a 90% failure rate during that time.
It can be difficult for the average person to determine which hospitals follow the AIM safety standards. USA Today contacted 75 hospitals in 13 states to ask if they followed the recommendations for hemorrhage, preeclampsia, and hypertension. Half of hospitals refused to answer the questions.
Many women die when simple measures can be taken to help them. Proper in-take and assessing women for these risks at check-in is key, experts say. Hospital staff can monitor blood loss and quantify it by tracking and weighing bloody pads.
Childbirth experts say staff should be trained to recognize the warning signs of hypertension, preeclampsia, and hemorrhage and offer medications within the crucial one-hour window. Hospitals should also keep a mobile cart stocked with necessary supplies to stop hemorrhage and bring it to the delivery beds, just in case.