A USA Today investigation found that maternal death rates in the U.S. are the highest among developed nations.
The United States is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth, with more than 50,000 mothers suffering severe injuries during or after childbirth and about 700 mothers dying.
According to a USA Today investigation, a least half of these deaths could have been prevented and half of the injuries reduced or prevented with better care. And the investigation revealed that hospitals and healthcare workers do not intervene quickly enough when something goes wrong.
While the maternal death and injury rate has been decreasing in developed nations around the world, such as Germany, Japan and France, the death and injury rate in the U.S. has continued to climb. In 2015, it was 26.4 per 100,000 births – the highest in the developed world. USA Today reported that there is one exception: California.
California has implemented a system of safety practices endorsed by top medical societies to reduce maternal death and injury rates, resulting in a death rate that has fallen by half, even while the rest of the country has increased.
Despite the success of these safety measures, the rest of the country has been slow to implement them. According to USA Today, that’s largely because regulators and oversight groups that could require hospitals to do more to protect mothers, don’t do anything.
“The lack of action by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to protect mothers stands in sharp contrast to its more aggressive approach to trying to improve care for elderly Medicare patients,” USA Today reports.
Medicare, which requires hospitals to report complications related to hip and knee surgeries, does not require hospitals to track or report childbirth complications. The Joint Commission, a private accreditation group that sets safety standards for thousands of hospitals, requires hospitals to track c-sections, but not when healthcare providers fail to follow safety guidelines to protect mothers against childbirth complications, according to the investigation.
USA Today discovered that the top two complications mothers experience during childbirth are hypertension (high blood pressure) and hemorrhaging (extreme blood loss). According to USA Today, 60 percent of deaths caused by hypertension, blood pressure over 160/110, and 90 percent of deaths caused by hemorrhaging could have been prevented if action was taken earlier.
That action includes administering medications earlier and more accurately measuring blood loss during and after delivery.
Protocol for women with high blood pressure calls for treatment within 60 minutes. However, of the only 31 hospitals that told USA Today they follow this protocol, an even smaller share of only nine said they track how often doctors and nurses actually give treatment in time.
In one case USA Today uncovered during its investigation, a 24-year-old new mother had to have an emergency hysterectomy following hours of internal bleeding that went unnoticed after she gave birth to her son. Ali Lowry’s blood pressure dropped as low as 52/26, a sign that someone is “losing life-threatening amounts of blood,” according to the childbirth safety tool kit California experts made available to hospitals. However, no healthcare provider took action, according to a lawsuit Lowry and her husband filed against Knox Community Hospital, USA Today reported.
“We’re not talking about a Third World country, we’re talking about us, here,” a trainer for the American Hospital Association said during a 2015 closed-door training session according to USA Today. “This shouldn’t be happening here.”
The trainer said most of the deaths “were absolutely preventable,” according to tapes obtained by USA Today.