Maternal Death Rate in US Is Getting Worse. Here’s Why

Improper hospital safety procedures cause more than 50,000 women to suffer severe complications and life-threatening injuries during childbirth every year in the United States. Approximately 700 women die each year from preventable injuries.

Deadly Deliveries on the Rise

Many U.S. hospitals are not following basic recommended safety procedures during childbirth. As a result, maternal death rates are rising across the country. Every year, approximately 137 women die from severe complications and life-threatening injuries that could have been prevented with proper hospital safety practices. Unnecessary maternal deaths account for two fatalities every day and 700 fatalities every year. The U.S. maternal death rate is 26.4 percent per 100,000 live births, the highest death rate for mothers giving birth among the world’s developed nations.

According to a USA TODAY investigation, many hospitals do not track maternal safety records. The investigation shows that many hospitals routinely ignore recommended treatments during delivery that could save women’s’ lives, but records are scarce and hospitals do not want to discuss the topic of maternal injuries and deaths. Research shows that about one-half of maternal deaths can be prevented if doctors and nurses simply follow recommended safety procedures in the delivery room. Instead, many doctors and nurses ignore safety procedures that can prevent life-threatening consequences:

  • Monitoring Blood Pressure – High blood pressure that goes untreated during delivery puts mothers at high risk for strokes and heart attacks, resulting in severe injuries, paralysis, and sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Monitoring Blood Loss – Excessive blood loss during delivery puts mothers in danger if medications are not given within one hour of blood loss. Excessive blood loss can cause organs to shut down, resulting in death.
  • Checking for Blood Clots – Blood clots put mothers at risk for strokes, heart attacks, and internal injuries. Undetected blood clots can travel to the brain, heart, and various internal organs.
  • Preventing Infections – Infections that develop during delivery can lead to a variety of severe injuries if left untreated. Monitoring a mother’s vital signs and checking for high fever can prevent infections from spreading in the body.

These safety procedures do not require a lot of time or expensive technology. They are simple, easy medical procedures that experts have recommended for many years. They can save mothers’ lives in the delivery room, but many medical professionals are not performing them. As a result, women are suffering strokes and heart attacks, internal injuries, and serious complications that lead to permanent disabilities and death. Some women are unable to have future children because of injuries that should have been prevented.

The lack of proper safety measures for mothers giving birth is occurring across the country at large hospitals, small community hospitals, surgery centers, and birthing centers. It’s also occurring in many private doctors’ offices because doctors or nurses fail to perform basic safety checks or fail to provide proper treatment for serious complications in mothers during pregnancy and after delivery.

Records obtained by USA TODAY investigations show that dozens of hospitals in North and South Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania have put patients in danger due to lack of proper safety procedures. Records show that less than one-half of maternity patients with dangerously high blood pressure were promptly treated to prevent strokes or heart attacks. At some hospitals, less than 15 percent of mothers in distress during delivery got proper treatment to prevent injuries and/or death.

Preventing Maternal Deaths

According to USA TODAY and many state officials, regulators and oversight agencies are not requiring hospitals to follow maternal safety procedures and keep accurate safety records. Medicare and Medicaid Services are not taking proper actions to protect mothers in the delivery room from injuries and fatalities. Medicare is more focused on care for the elderly which generates huge revenues for hospitals around the country. For elderly care that’s paid for by Medicare, the federal government requires hospitals to keep accurate records and disclose information including heart attack rates and complication rates for knee and hip surgeries. In addition, all information is posted online for easy public access.

The Joint Commission, a private accreditation group that sets safety standards for thousands of U.S. hospitals, requires hospitals to track cesarean section rates but does not require hospitals to track or report maternal safety rates. Recently, the American Hospital Association has held training sessions to improve maternity care in thousands of hospitals across the country. During training sessions in 2015, officials focused on safety prevention measures that can save at least 50 percent of mothers in the delivery room. In 2016, trainers noted that up to 93 percent of women who bleed to death during childbirth can be saved by proper monitoring for blood loss and treatment.