Following the December 14, 2013 and January 15, 2013 deaths of two young mothers during childbirth, the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, MA, announced that it is performing an internal review into these tragic deaths and whether or not the deaths could have been prevented. In addition and in accordance with mandatory reporting requirements relating to unexpected medical results and deaths, the South Shore Hospital has also notified the Massachusetts Department of Public Health of these deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 650 women die each year as a result of delivery or complications from delivery. Despite advances in medicine, the pregnancy-related mortality rate more than doubled from 1987-2009. The majority of these deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease and infections.
Unfortunately, it appears that South Shore Hospital, without even completing its investigation, is taking the position that the women’s deaths were unpredictable and unpreventable.
Equally unfortunate for the families of these young women is that they may never learn the results of the hospital’s investigation and whether or not the deaths were truly unavoidable. The internal review being conducted by the South Shore Hospital is most likely being conducted in the form of a medical peer review committee.
A peer review committee is typically a group of physicians who review the care rendered to a patient to determine whether or not the care was appropriate under the circumstances. In Massachusetts, the findings of and any records relating to peer review committees are deemed confidential and privileged, thus insulating a hospital from having to produce the results of its own investigation to the families of these two young women.
Even if a medical malpractice case is filed, the families would still not have access to these findings. This confidentiality is codified in Massachusetts’ Peer Review statute, M.G.L. ch. 111, Section 204.
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