Congress looks into ma­ter­nity hos­pi­tals

Com­mit­tee ac­tion fol­lows USA TO­DAY re­port on child­birth deaths, in­juries

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Ali­son Young

Lead­ers of a con­gres­sional com­mit­tee asked the op­er­a­tors of hun­dreds of U.S. ma­ter­nity hos­pi­tals to an­swer sweep­ing ques­tions about moth­ers dy­ing and be­ing in­jured from child­birth – and what ac­tions they are tak­ing to re­duce those num­bers.

In let­ters sent to ma­jor hospi­tal sys­tems across the coun­try, the lead­er­ship of the House Com­mit­tee on Ways and Means ex­pressed con­cern about the ris­ing rate of moth­ers dy­ing in the USA and called for hos­pi­tals to an­swer a se­ries of ques­tions and pro­vide its in­ves­ti­ga­tors with copies of their child­birth safety pro­to­cols and data on moth­ers’ deaths and in­juries.

The ac­tion fol­lows a USA TO­DAY in­ves­ti­ga­tion in July that found ev­ery year, thou­sands of women suf­fer life-al­ter­ing in­juries or die from child­birth be­cause hos­pi­tals and med­i­cal work­ers skip safety prac­tices known to save lives.

When USA TO­DAY re­peat­edly con­tacted 75 hos­pi­tals in 13 states to learn whether they are fol­low­ing cer­tain na­tion­ally rec­og­nized safety prac­tices – half wouldn’t an­swer the ques­tions.

USA TO­DAY’s work was cited by the com­mit­tee in an­nounc­ing its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“It’s clear that there are warn­ing lights that are flash­ing, and we need to un­der­stand what’s caus­ing this,” said Rep. Pe­ter Roskam, R-Ill., chair­man of the com­mit­tee’s health sub­com­mit­tee.

The com­mit­tee’s let­ter asks hos­pi­tals to describe what they are do­ing to iden­tify women at risk of child­birth com­pli­ca­tions, how they track and re­view preg­nancy-re­lated deaths and se­vere harms and to what ex­tent they par­tic­i­pate in pro­grams that seek to stan­dard­ize and im­prove child­birth safety prac­tices.

The law­mak­ers asked hospi­tal sys­tems to dis­close to the com­mit­tee in­for­ma­tion about each of their birthing hos­pi­tals, in­clud­ing the num­ber of ba­bies de­liv­ered in 2017 and the num­ber, racial de­mo­graph­ics and causes of preg­nancy-re­lated deaths and se­vere ma­ter­nal harms for that year.

“When an in­quiry like this goes out, we have an ex­pec­ta­tion the re­sponses will be thor­ough and prompt and forth­com­ing,” Roskam told USA TO­DAY.

The com­mit­tee sent the let­ters Wed­nes­day to 15 of the coun­try’s largest hospi­tal sys­tems that op­er­ate more than 900 hos­pi­tals and to­gether de­liv­ered more than one in five ba­bies in 2015. The let­ter sets a dead­line of Nov. 15 for re­sponses.

“It is ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able that pre­ventable fail­ures are the cause of avoid­able, un­nec­es­sary, and ab­so­lutely tragic deaths,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, RTexas; Rep. Lynn Jenk­ins, R-Kan.; and Roskam in the state­ment Wed­nes­day an­nounc­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Brady is the com­mit­tee’s chair­man. Jenk­ins leads the over­sight sub­com­mit­tee. “With this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we are com­mit­ted to find­ing out why these deaths are hap­pen­ing and where Congress can take ac­tion to not only pre­vent these deaths, but also re­verse this trend.”

USA TO­DAY’s ongoing “Deadly De­liv­er­ies” in­ves­ti­ga­tion has fo­cused on the role of hospi­tal care in pre­ventable deaths and in­juries of moth­ers.

Each year, about 50,000 U.S. women are se­verely harmed and about 700 die be­cause of com­pli­ca­tions re­lated to child­birth.

African-Amer­i­can moms are three to four times more likely than white moms to die or suf­fer dev­as­tat­ing child­birth in­juries, stud­ies found.

About half the deaths could be pre­vented and half the in­juries re­duced or elim­i­nated with bet­ter med­i­cal care that re­duced de­lays in di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of child­birth emer­gen­cies.

At hos­pi­tals across the coun­try, USA TO­DAY ex­posed doc­tors and nurses fail­ing to fol­low na­tion­ally pro­moted best prac­tices that make child­birth safer.

USA TO­DAY found lit­tle in­for­ma­tion is pub­licly avail­able to women about child­birth com­pli­ca­tion rates at ma­ter­nity hos­pi­tals in their com­mu­ni­ties – and many hos­pi­tals de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about the safety prac­tices.

“See­ing that the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee is tak­ing this is­sue se­ri­ously is giv­ing me hope,” said Rachel Yen­cha, who nearly bled to death af­ter giv­ing birth in 2015 in sub­ur­ban Cleve­land. She shared her story as part of USA TO­DAY’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion in July. “There’s hope that peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion now,” Yen­cha said.

The 15 sys­tems re­ceiv­ing the com­mit­tee’s let­ters were se­lected be­cause they were the na­tion’s largest based on pa­tient rev­enue in 2015.

They are: Ad­ven­tist Health Sys­tem, based in Al­ta­monte Springs, Florida; Ad­vo­cate Aurora Health, Down­ers Grove, Illi­nois; As­cen­sion Health­care, St. Louis; Catholic Health Ini­tia­tives, En­gle­wood, Colorado; Cleve­land Clinic Health Sys­tem, Cleve­land; Com­mu­nity Health Sys­tems, Franklin, Ten­nessee; Dig­nity Health, San Fran­cisco; HCA Health­care, Nashville, Ten­nessee; North­well Health, New Hyde Park, New York; Prov­i­dence St. Joseph Health, Ren­ton, Wash­ing­ton; Sut­ter Health, Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia; Tenet Health­care Cor­po­ra­tion, Dal­las; Trin­ity Health, Livo­nia, Michi­gan; Universal Health Ser­vices, King of Prus­sia, Penn­syl­va­nia; and Univer­sity of Pittsburgh Med­i­cal Cen­ter, Pittsburgh.

YoLanda Men­tion died af­ter giv­ing birth in 2015 de­spite warn­ing signs she was at risk of stroke from dan­ger­ously high blood pres­sure. Her case was one of sev­eral fea­tured in a USA TO­DAY in­ves­ti­ga­tion of ma­ter­nal deaths pub­lished in July.


“We need to un­der­stand what’s caus­ing this,” Rep. Pe­ter Roskam, R-Ill., says.

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