Alabama has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the country. One-third of counties in the state are called maternity care deserts by the March of Dimes, which means there is no access to obstetricians and birthing facilities. And the list of areas without birthing facilities is growing. Just recently, three more hospitals in the state announced closures of maternal units.
With even more hospitals stopping delivering babies, the risk of injury and death to mothers and infants may grow even higher than it already is. The potential for increased medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits may also rise as pregnant women receive inadequate care.
There are several reasons for maternity units closing in Alabama. As reported in recent news articles, the unprofitability of birthing centers, uninsured patients, and staffing shortages contribute to closures. Some point to Alabama outlawing abortion post-Roe v. Wade for difficulty recruiting new obstetricians and gynecologists to the state. Whatever the reasons for the closures, it is pregnant women and infants who pay the price for insufficient maternal and neonatal treatment.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics for 2018 to 2021 showed that during this time period Alabama had the fourth-highest maternal mortality rate in the country. The rate was 41.4 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Since that time, however, Alabama has unfortunately become the top state where women are most at risk in childbirth. A 2023 report from the non-profit Milken Institute gives the rate of 64.63 deaths per 100,000 births.
For infants, the death rate, as reported by the CDC, is 7.56 per 1,000 live births. Only Mississippi and Arkansas have higher infant mortality rates. These rates may climb more with the closing of more maternity departments.
When there are fewer maternity units, there are fewer opportunities for expectant mothers to get good care. In an emergency, they can be forced to either go to the nearest emergency room to deliver or drive long distances to hospitals with maternity wards. Neither of these choices are ideal.
At the local emergency room, the hospital probably won’t have a neonatal unit and other facilities to provide proper care. Emergency room doctors may have less training to deal with issues that could occur before, during, or after delivery. This can be especially true for women with high-risk pregnancies. And in situations where babies are in distress during labor.
Pregnant women who must drive to a birthing facility may not get there in time. They could end up giving birth in the car on the way. If they do make it to a hospital with obstetric and neonatal care, they may find that overcrowding is an issue. Doctors and other healthcare staff may be tired and overworked.
With fewer maternity units comes fewer doctors, nurses, and other providers of obstetric care seeing more patients and the potential rise for more mistakes to be made.
Numerous things can go wrong in childbirth. When adequate medical care is scarce, the risk of providers not recognizing issues or treating problems improperly and causing injuries arises.
Here are some examples of things that can happen during labor and childbirth that may results in legal claims:
If a medical malpractice case is proven, you could collect compensation for your injuries. Damages you could potentially receive include payment of medical bills, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and more.
When mothers or babies die due to childbirth injuries, doctors, hospitals, and other providers may be held responsible and compensate the victim’s family for wrongful death.
You should recognize that not every case of birth injury or death in childbirth equals medical malpractice. Sometimes, good care may have been provided but injury or death still occurred.
To be successful in a medical malpractice suit for injury or a wrongful death claim, it must be shown that the healthcare provider failed to deliver the expected standard of care that another doctor would have in a similar situation.
Our experienced medical malpractice and wrongful death attorney can review your case and advise you of your legal options.
Welcoming a new child should be one of the happiest times of your life. Joy can quickly turn to heartbreak if the infant of a mother is lost or injured in childbirth. Sadly, with the number of maternity care deserts growing in Alabama, the risk to mothers and babies could become even greater.
At Belt, Bruner & Barnett P.C., we fight for individuals and families who have been harmed due to medical malpractice related to childbirth. Call us today at (205) 933-1500 or contact us online to arrange a free initial consultation.