N.J. hospitals still perform too many of these risky procedures

New Jersey hospitals’ longstanding problem of unnecessarily delivering babies by Cesarian-section got worse last year, a practice that puts mothers and their infants at a greater risk of complications, according to a new report released Tuesday.

New Jersey, Florida, Kentucky, New York and Texas recorded the highest number of C-section deliveries in the nation, according to the Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization that issues biannual report cards on hospital safety. 

Of the 47 hospitals in New Jersey that deliver babies and submitted data for analysis, only nine met Leapfrog’s standard of performing no more than 23.9 percent C-sections, according to the report. In last year’s report, 11 hospitals met that standard.

C-sections put mothers at risk of infection and blood clots, prolong the recovery process, create chronic pelvic pain and may cause problems in future pregnancies. For infants, C-sections put them at greater risk of developing breathing problems, such as asthma, and diabetes, according to the report.

Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, a research and consumer advocacy group, said the report provides critical information the public needs to know when choosing a hospital.

“At the Quality Institute, improving maternity care is an essential part of our over all mission. The Leapfrog findings show the absolute need for our work,” Schwimmer said. 

“New Jersey can and must do better to reduce C-section rates, which vary widely among hospitals. There are times when a C-section is needed. But, the hospital where an expectant mother delivers her baby should not be the determining factor of whether or not she has a surgical birth, Schwimmer said.

“Now is the time for hospital leadership to prioritize maternal and child health throughout New Jersey.”

N.J. among the worst states for high numbers of C-sections

The warnings about unnecessary C-section deliveries are not new. The medical community has been trying for years to reduce the frequency of the procedure if it is not medically recommended.

The Leapfrog Group, a non-profit group that focuses on hospital safety has taken on the issue with health benefits consultant Castlight by issuing these periodic reports.

“Childbirth is the number one reason for hospitalization among all populations and age groups,” Castlight Chief Product Officer, Maeve O’Meara said in a statement.

“That alone tells us how critical it is to provide this information not just to consumers but to employers as well, who have a high stake in the care their employees receive. Employers should understand how hospitals are performing and we’re pleased to partner with Leapfrog to bring this information into the sunlight.”

The Leapfrog survey looked solely at births among first time mothers of single babies – not twins – that were in the conventional head-down position. The findings are based on data from calendar year or fiscal year 2017.

Christ Hospital in Jersey City reported the lowest C-section rate, at 14 percent, according to the report. CentraState Medical Center in Freehold recorded the highest C-section rates, at 42.1 percent.

“CentraState readily acknowledges our current C-section trends and we are working with our physicians and clinicians on improving processes to lower the number of c-sections performed at CentraState,” Abbey Dardozzi, a hospital spokeswoman, said in an email. “We are also very proud of our low infant and maternal mortality rates.”

In addition to Christ Hospital, the other hospitals that met the safety standard were:

Capital Health Medical Center, Hopewell;

Hoboken University Medical Center;

Cooper University Hospital, Camden;

Holy Name Medical Center, Teaneck;

Inspira Medical Center, Elmer;

Trinitas Regional Medical Center, Elizabeth;

University Hospital, Newark;

Virtua Voorhees Hospital.

Atlantic Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City and Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus, which recently changed its name to Hudson Regional Hospital, did not supply data and are not included in the findings.

Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal praised Leapfrog for focusing attention on this important public health issue. 

“A number of hospitals perform quite well,” Elnahal said. “Our goal is to create a maternal care quality collaborative to spread the best practices that the highest performing hospitals are achieving and make sure that as many hospitals as possible can replicate them.”

The report also highlighted the need to cut down the number of early deliveries they perform, defined as delivering a baby before 39 weeks without medical necessity. Babies delivered too early are at risk of pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, and in rare cases, death.

Only two hospitals exceeded the 5 percent maximum: Hackensack University Medical Center, at 7.1 percent, and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, at 10.3 percent. 

Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

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