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Maternal Death and Medical Malpractice

July 27, 2017

As a recent ProPublica article reported, the United States has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world – and it’s getting worse even as other countries get better. Childbirth has been a dangerous time for mothers throughout history, but many people don’t realize just how dangerous it still is today. Some risk factors that contribute to maternal deaths in modern society include:

  • Mothers are having babies later in life.
  • C-sections are becoming more prevalent
  • Unplanned pregnancies mean women don’t address health issues beforehand
  • Some women lack good insurance and have a hard time getting care

But perhaps the single biggest hazard for expecting and new mothers is medical malpractice. According to the ProPublica article, 60 percent of these maternal deaths are preventable.

Tragedies often result from a medical establishment that does not prioritize mothers

During and after childbirth, medical providers have two patients: the baby and the mother. Unfortunately, there is a serious disconnect between the level of care that is given to the baby and the level of care given to the mother. In most hospitals, the baby’s vital signs, such as blood pressure, are monitored constantly, whereas the mothers are only checked occasionally, which can allow potentially deadly conditions to go unchecked until it is too late.

Adding to the problem is the fact that most OB-GYN specialists have much more training on treating the baby than the mother. And funding is likewise disproportionate, with government and state programs alike giving the vast majority of their funding to programs for babies, rather than programs for mothers. Under Medicaid, for example, mothers are only covered for 60 days postpartum, while newborns are covered for the entire first year of life.

The basic problem is that the field of maternal-fetal medicine has drifted disproportionately toward the fetus rather than the mother, with potentially deadly results. The seven leading killers of new mothers in the United States are:

  • Hemorrhage
  • Cardiovascular & Coronary Conditions
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Infection
  • Embolism
  • Mental Health Conditions
  • Preeclampsia & Eclampsia

Each of these causes, especially hemorrhage and preeclampsia, is preventable with proper monitoring and timely interventions. With teamwork and standardized, organized care, hospitals and birthing centers can prevent the majority of maternal deaths. But many hospitals are reluctant to implement necessary steps, due to inertia and the perception that maternal death isn’t really a serious problem.

Those hospitals are mistaken. And when negligent medical providers fail to provide new mothers with the care they need, our attorneys fight to hold them accountable.