America has one of the highest maternity mortality rates in the developed world and, sadly, that rate is only increasing each year. According to hospitals, these ever-increasing number of childbirth complications are primarily caused by demographic and financial considerations out of their control – poor access to healthcare compounded by pre-existing health problems which commonly afflict low-income mothers. A recent analysis by USA Today, however, shows a different cause and puts the primary blame on the hospitals, not the mothers.
According to the newspaper, many of the hospitals with a high rate of childbirth complications are “training hospitals” for medical students. The newspaper delves into several stories of women receiving poor care while delivering their child at the hands of these physicians-in-training. In one instance, Felicia West slipped in the bathroom and fell on her six-month pregnant belly. After being admitted to Touro hospital in New Orleans she suffered a seizure and went into respiratory arrested. The doctors performed a C-section on West’s child and, while the baby was fine, the mother’s health continued to deteriorate. The doctors misdiagnosed her with a rare blood disorder and in the following days, her blood pressure continued to increase. According to the American College of Obstetricians, a blood pressure reading over 160 is the “most important factor” of a coming stroke in pregnant women and new moms. Strokes that are not “treated expeditiously can result in maternal death.”
When West’s blood pressure reached 170, the nurses began frantically paging doctors. According to USA Today, the nurses paged four doctors over the course of three hours and received no response. When the fifth doctor paged by the nurses finally responded, he said the high blood pressure reading should not be an emergency. This doctor was “learning internal medicine skills through one of Touro’s training programs,” according to the newspaper. West subsequently suffered a stroke that has left her unable to care for her child.
In response to West’s claims, the hospital says that its high rate of childbirth complications is caused by the “vulnerable population” that comprise its patients. However, USA Today found that hospitals with high rates of patients coming from low-income backgrounds did not necessarily have high rates of childbirth complications. According to the newspaper’s analysis, only half of the hospitals that primarily served low-income patients had “exceptionally high” rates of childbirth complications.
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