Military Maternity Wards Versus Civilian Maternity Wards


As many reports have revealed, military hospitals perform worse than leading civilian hospitals in most safety categories involving maternity patients. More than 50,000 babies are born in military hospitals each year, and new statistics show that they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns at civilian hospitals. These are scary findings surrounding an event that is supposed to be the happiest moment for a family. According to a recent patient safety analysis performed by the Pentagon in 2012, new moms are more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth than mothers at civilian hospitals. In light of concerns mounting over poor patient health, safety and quality of care, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a review of all military hospitals that care for the 1.35 million active duty service members and their families. The 56 operating military hospitals, both domestic and overseas, service a great number of maternity patients, and that number continues to rise since young families are the largest growing population among military personnel.

A New York Times investigation uncovered the Pentagon’s statistics on the poor performance of military hospitals compared to civilian hospitals, and the disturbing statistics that show a lack of consistency and quality in patient care. According to reports, the government paid out $100 million yearly on average between 2006 and 2010 on claims for surgeries, maternity and neonatal care. These numbers may be skewed because active duty service members are not allowed to sue.

Military Maternity Wards Versus Civilian Maternity Wards

Military Maternity Malpractice Statistics

From 2011-2013, medical workers reported 239 unexpected deaths, but only 100 were reported to the Pentagon’s patient-safety center. One such case is the unexpected death of healthy 21-year-old Jessica Zeppa, the wife of a soldier, who was five months pregnant. She was sent home from the hospital without having her file reviewed after her fourth visit to Reynolds Army Community Hospital. When she arrived the next day by ambulance, she was airlifted to a civilian hospital. Despite efforts by medical professionals, she suffered a miscarriage and died of complications from severe sepsis, a body-wide infection. Later, medical experts revealed that she would have survived if she had been properly diagnosed early on. The case would later settle for $1.25 million.

Ms. Zeppa’s case magnifies the holes in communication and lapses in judgment that riddle military medical hospital maternity wards. There is a lack of communication among the different departments, which results in files being overlooked or critical data going missing. Some of the most prominent concerns the reports revealed center around this and provide an alarming picture of gross neglect, as shown in the following grave and preventable case examples:

  • A viable fetus died after a surgeon operated on the wrong part of a mother’s body.
  • A medical team failed to act fast enough during the birth of an infant whose heart monitor sounded 32 times in distress over his slowed heart rate, resulting in severe brain damage.
  • A 34-year-old woman about to give birth had her file read too late, and she passed on a group B streptococcus bacteria to her newborn. This led to hearing loss and other complications for her son just four months after his birth.

 Failure to Perform Root-Cause Analysis

In some of these cases there was a failure to report the catastrophic event. Without a root-cause analysis performed, there is no way to determine how the situations could have been avoided and there is no rectifying the negligence of the medical staff. The Pentagon called for a review and implementation of new strategies. Military medical hospitals must report mistakes and investigate and correct them within 45 days of the unexpected catastrophic event.

The regulations state, “Such events are called ‘sentinel’ because they signal the need for immediate investigation and response.” These are also referred to as “never events” because the unexpected death and serious injuries due to medical mistakes, negligence and miscommunication should never happen to a patient, but unfortunately, these events make up the largest group of the root-cause analysis safety report audits that were conducted in 2013.

The military hospitals lag behind the civilian hospitals in certain measurements of performance on maternity patient care and safety. Reports show that in 40 percent of military hospitals, mothers are more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth than at civilian hospitals. In 2012, about 2,500 cases were recorded in military hospitals, which is about 760 more than the civilian benchmark. Military hospitals’ injury rate for using instruments like forceps to assist in delivery is about 15 percent higher than in civilian hospitals nationally. The rate of injury to a baby during delivery in a military hospital is twice the national average. This number is staggering compared to the civilian benchmark and needs to be immediately rectified.

Military mothers should have a choice of where to deliver their baby so that the happiest day of their life can remain that way, untarnished by hazardous medical errors and catastrophic medical mistakes. Matters of insurance coverage and military bureaucracy should not come before a patient’s health, care and safety, but in the case of numerous military medical mistakes that go unreported and unrectified, they do.

For the family of the young boy who is now profoundly deaf due to a misread chart during his birth, their case was only discussed at Reynolds Army Community Hospital three years after they filed a medical malpractice claim. The government settled the claim in 2009 for $300,000.

According to reports from the Pentagon data, medical malpractice settlements ranged from $30,000 to $10 million, but there are no records of root-cause analysis. This is not a risk that any new mother or young family should have to take. Standards and guidelines for military maternity practices will need a major overhaul in order to ensure the same quality of health, care and safety that civilian hospitals offer.

For more information about how we can help you determine if you or a loved one has suffered a severe injury or even wrongful death in the maternity award due to military medical malpractice, contact Slack & Davis today at 800.455.8686 or http://www.slackdavis.com.