Terrifying Conclusions Stem from U.S. Maternal Mortality Reports & Investigations
Expecting moms are now 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than their own mothers, according to Harvard Medical School. This staggering realization was proven by more than 50,000 cases of women who have suffered severe complications from childbirth and pregnancy-related illnesses or under-treated diseases and the 700+ more who are dying each year from them, a majority of deaths experts now say could have been avoided. These numbers rank the U.S. as the most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world, positioning health care providers to blame for their failures and carelessness in keeping mothers and babies safe during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum stages.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Boston University researchers, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. Public Health Service recently released an outpour of data showing just how scary it is for American women to experience childbirth today. Here is a closer look at three recent reports to show the desperate need for a drastically different approach in providing better care to women before and beyond their pregnancies.
- Boston University: Maternal Mortality Rates Are Back on the Rise
Using the latest vital statistics data from the CDC, Boston University’s Dr. Gene Declercq was able to show mortality rates for all reproductive-age women in the U.S. are indeed on a dangerous rise. Declercq’s research also concluded that the mortality rate had increased the most for women between ages 15 and 45 at 14 percent (2010 thru 2016) and also for those in a minority group. For example, for every 100,000 African American women who give birth to a live baby, about 43 are dying. For white women, however, it’s only 13.
- CDC: Most Pregnancy-Related Deaths Are Avoidable and Can Happen Up to One Year After Delivery
The CDC’s latest announcement (May 2019) said that pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable in nearly 60 percent of known cases, and leading causes of death can differ throughout pregnancy and after delivery. Through an analysis of data provided over a six-year period:
- Heart disease and stroke caused more than 1 in 3 deaths overall.
- Obstetric emergencies, like severe bleeding and amniotic fluid embolism (when amniotic fluid enters a mother’s bloodstream), caused most deaths at delivery.
- In the week after delivery, severe bleeding, high blood pressure, and infection were most common.
- Cardiomyopathy (weakened heart muscle) was the leading cause of deaths one week to one year after delivery.
- Nearly 1/3 (31 percent) happened during pregnancy.
- Just over 1/3 (36 percent) happened at delivery or in the week after.
- Exactly 1/3 (33 percent) happened one week to one year postpartum.
Pregnancy-related deaths and complications can occur up to a year after a woman gives birth – but whenever they occur, most will be preventable or at the least treatable, according to the 2019 CDC Vital Signs report.
- USA Today: Healthcare Providers Are to Blame
An ongoing USA TODAY investigation revealed that women are needlessly dying or sustaining life-altering injuries because of medical mistakes and consistently receiving poor care. Highlights from the series of articles conclude that:
- Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.
- Hemorrhage and high blood pressure needlessly kill too many women.
- Hospitals often won’t say whether they follow critical safety practices.
- Black moms are harmed twice as often as white moms.
The investigation also uncovered that hospitals are failing mothers of all demographics during childbirth. White, black, insured, uninsured, in wealthier zip codes and poorer ones, hospitals across the country are allowing an alarming rate of serious complications to continue while physicians are practicing riskier than ever.
Medical Complications Created from Improper Care Do Lead to Higher Rates of Maternal Death
According to WHO, most of the complications women are dying from develop during pregnancy and nearly all are treatable. These problems may exist before pregnancy but often worsen during pregnancy, primarily if not managed as part of the woman’s care or treated at the appropriate time. The major complications that account for nearly 75 percent of all maternal deaths include:
- severe bleeding (mostly bleeding after childbirth)
- infections (usually after childbirth)
- high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia)
- complications from delivery
- unsafe abortion
Nearly 50 percent of these pregnancy-related deaths will be caused by hemorrhage, cardiovascular and coronary conditions, cardiomyopathy, or infection, but complications linked to surgical deliveries and cesarean are also among the most significant contributing factors.
Eliminating Preventable Maternal Deaths at All Levels
In the U.S., each state oversees its medical regulations, death certificates, and the surveillance of healthcare practices, whereas national governments of other countries regulate such things. It should be a well-known problem that the federal government still doesn’t require hospitals to tell the public how often mothers die or suffer from childbirth complications. Just as awful, state maternal death review committees too often point the cause of maternal death to a mother’s lifestyle choices but never pregnancy or childbirth complications created from poor or unmanaged healthcare support systems.
Hospitals and clinicians must do better in understanding why preventable maternal deaths continue to increase and prioritize ways to reduce these events immediately. Whether it’s strengthening education in recognizing the symptoms of deadly conditions and providing quick treatment plans or starting to publicly record and report a hospital’s incidences in maternal morbidity and injuries, something more must be done.
Perhaps an easy and cost-effective attempt in reducing these highly preventable occurrences and saving the lives of mothers would be to simply stop blaming women for their pregnancy-related diseases and illnesses and hold providers responsible for not identifying and treating a patient’s disease or illness instead?
Keep Hospitals and Healthcare Systems Accountable
Our team will continue to write and share information on this important topic in the weeks ahead. But if you suspect medical negligence may have contributed to a maternal injury or death, please contact Levin & Perconti toll-free at 877-374-1417, in Chicago at (312) 332-2872, or by completing our online case evaluation form for a FREE consultation.
Source: Building U.S. Capacity to Review and Prevent Maternal Deaths. (2018). Report from nine maternal mortality review committees. Retrieved from www.cdcfoundation.org/sites/default/files/files/ReportfromNineMMRCs.pdf