Are U.S. Hospitals Safe for Mothers During Delivery?

The United States is often viewed as one of the most innovative and progressive nations in the developed world.  Even with our incredible advances in science and medicine, the question is still raised of if U.S. hospitals are safe for mothers during delivery? The gravity of the answer to this question may come as a surprise to many readers. The question then is how common are medical mistakes and birth injuries in U.S. Hospitals?

Are U.S. Hospitals Safe for Mothers During Delivery?

Maternal injury and death rates have been on the decline across developed nations.  France, Germany, and Japan have all successfully reduced injury and death rates, while these rates in the U.S. continue to climb.  As of 2015, there were an estimated 26.4 injuries or deaths among 100,000 live births in the U.S. – the highest rate across developed nations.

According to U.S. News & World Report, each year around 50,000 women suffer severe injuries during the labor and delivery processes.  Around 700 of those women die.  An investigation by USA Today revealed there are two primary complications leading to injury or death – hypertension (high blood pressure) and hemorrhaging (blood loss).  According to the investigation:

  • 60 percent of deaths caused by hypertension presented blood pressure over 160/110.
  • 90 percent of deaths caused by hemorrhaging could have been prevented had healthcare providers taken action sooner.
  • There are standard protocols for managing hypertension during labor and delivery. The standard call for treatment is 60 minutes.  USA Today reported that only 31 hospitals reported following that protocol.  Only nine hospitals reported tracking how often healthcare providers adhere to that timeframe.

The preventable nature of maternal injury and death has been echoed time and again, but still nothing seems to be changing.  A trainer for the American Hospital Association has been quoted saying that “This shouldn’t be happening here”, and that the majority of deaths “were absolutely preventable”.

Suffering a preventable injury or illness, especially in a healthcare setting is devastating physically and emotionally.  For women who are preparing to deliver a child, that devastation is manifest in unimaginable ways.  To learn more about birth injuries, complications, or your rights as a patient, contact Birth Injury Guide to speak with one of our attorneys.

Hospital Safety Regulations are Lacking

There are fundamental and deep issues contributing to the consistently high maternal injury and death rates.  As noted previously, a majority of hospitals fail to follow protocols for specific complications that are known to be deadly.  Others fail to diagnose and treat complications in a timely manner.  The issues, however, go much deeper to the legislative and regulatory systems.  Some examples include:

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) do not take an aggressive approach to maternal care in the same way that they aggressively and proactively protect the elderly and Medicare recipients.
  • Medicare does not require hospitals to track complications of childbirth. It does require hospitals to tract complications related to knee and hip surgeries and other procedures.
  • The Joint Commission requires hospitals to track Cesarean section (c-section) procedures, but not incidents where healthcare providers fail to follow guidelines and complications result.

In the U.S., the exception to the rule appears to be California, where very strict safety practices have been instituted.  Endorsed by top medical societies, California’s strict guidelines have resulted in a decline in maternal injury and death rates of almost half.  In fact, their numbers have decreased across the state, even as the overall rates in the U.S.  have continued to rise. Unfortunately, the measures taken in California have not been followed in most other states. 

Federal Lawmakers Slow to Act

On a federal level, lawmakers have also been slow to act.  Dr. David Baker, who is the executive vice president of the Joint Commission’s Division of Health Care Quality Evaluation has been quoted stating that, “for us to make a requirement for every organization to follow something, there has to be a clear national consensus that this is the standard of care” Considering the fact that the U.S.  is falling starkly behind other developed nations, it would seem that this national crisis would be a priority on a nationwide level.

While state and federal governments are hesitant to act, many healthcare systems are taking it upon themselves to address the problem of maternal safety and standardized care.  Currently, 985 hospitals have enrolled in an Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM) program, which is dedicated to reforming hospital policies and procedures.  The hospitals participating represent only about 40 percent of U.S.  birthing hospitals, however, leaving significant room for improvement.

Safeguarding Your Health and Legal Rights

When you seek medical attention, there is an overall hope that you are safe and can trust the knowledge and training of your healthcare provider.  Unfortunately, healthcare providers, hospitals, and nurses do not always follow protocol or the standards of care.  Such actions are a violation of your legal rights.

If you have questions or concerns about your labor and delivery experience, or you or your child have been diagnosed with an injury you believe could have been prevented, it is important to contact a birth injury lawyer right away.  You deserve to have your concerns addressed and, if applicable, to pursue the justice and compensation that you deserve.  The team at Birth Injury Guide can help, and is here to answer your questions.  Fill out our online form to schedule a free case review.

Meagan Cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to the team at Birth Injury Guide to provide up-to-date and relevant content that clients can count on.