With maternal mortality rates soaring over the last 30 years, a USA Today investigation deemed the United States the “most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth.”
The high rates of death are largely due to negligence by hospitals, doctors and nurses who fail to perform basic safety checks, like checking blood loss after delivery and monitoring high blood pressure.
The long-term study, led by Alison Young, follows similar research conducted by ProPublica and the New York Times, and found that more than 50,000 women are severely injured during childbirth each year, with an additional 700 women dying.
And despite medical advances, the rate of women dying before, during or after childbirth has more than doubled since the 1990s.
One high-profile case of mistreatment after childbirth occured with Serena Williams. The tennis star was rushed into an emergency C-section to deliver her daughter Alexis Olympia, and after the birth, a coughing fit reopened her wounds. Doctors then discovered multiple, life-threatening blood clots in her body.
“In twenty-first century America, in the most powerful nation on Earth, no woman should ever die from pregnancy and childbirth,” Michael Lu, senior associate dean at George Washington University School of Public Health and former director of federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau, previously told PEOPLE.
The biggest extremes in the quality of maternal care are for women of color and of low socioeconomic backgrounds. African American women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth compared to white women — “a gap we have not been able to close in decades,” Lu said.
“A study in New York City estimated that the rate of life-threatening complications would fall by half if African American women gave birth at the same hospitals as white women.”
Many of the stories in the USA Today report echoed this data, and Williams’ experience.
The one place in the U.S. where maternal mortality rates have not grown is California, where the state has identified these problems with hospital care and made a plan to change it with “safety bundles.”
“Safety bundles are best practices, protocols, toolkits and other resources designed to improve the quality and safety of maternity care by improving the 4 R’s: readiness, recognition, response and reporting,” Lu explained at a Congressional briefing on April 19.
Lu and his coworkers started using the “safety bundles” in hospitals across California, and between 2006 and 2012, the overall maternal mortality rate decreased by 64 percent, and by 50 percent for African American mothers.
“It’s those early successes we had in California that led me to believe that there’s something we can do about maternal mortality for the whole country,” he said.