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Hospitals blame moms when childbirth goes wrong

No major companies want to take responsibility for their mistakes; even if it kills the people they are suppose to serve. Politicians and courts almost always rule against the customer regardless of how wrong the company can be.



NEW ORLEANS – As she lay in her hospital bed a week after giving birth, Felicia West’s body started sending out warning signals .

Her blood pressure spiked. She complained of a splitting headache. 

For three hours as she headed toward a stroke, medical records show no one at Touro Infirmary called a doctor to respond to danger signs for any new mother. They gave her painkillers and an ice pack – and they made her wait.

Then, after a series of handoffs, a doctor in training finally was tapped to deal with West’s blood pressure. The doctor was in no hurry.

"OK, well it will be a while before I can see her because I have a lot of people before her,” she responded at 6:45 p.m., the hospital’s nursing notes show.

Before dawn, West was dead.


For years, hospitals have blamed rising maternal deaths and injuries on problems beyond their control. Almost universally they’ve pointed to poverty and pre-existing medical conditions as the driving factors in making America the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth.

That narrative shifts the focus away from examining how doctors and nurses perform in maternity units. When West’s family sued, Touro denied that its medical care had anything to do with what happened to her.

But a USA TODAY investigation shows that West’s death – along with several other deaths and close calls at Touro – cannot be explained by demographics alone. The data, medical records and lawsuits suggest a complicated mix of misdiagnoses, delayed care and a failure to follow safety measures.

West didn’t get the rapid intervention for dangerous blood pressure called for in national treatment guidelines. Another woman nearly bled to death after an emergency C-section performed by doctors in training. A mother showing signs of infection instead was given tests by trainee doctors that their supervisors later testified were of questionable merit, including one that was extremely painful and another for a rare condition. She wound up with gangrene and amputations of her legs and hands.

These kinds of life-threatening childbirth complications are happening at Touro more often than at most hospitals. It is one of 120 hospitals where mothers suffer severe complications at far higher rates, USA TODAY found by examining billing records from 7 million births in 13 states.


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