Few events mean as much to families and society as the birth of a child. Thus, it is not surprising that the American healthcare system devotes substantial resources to facilitate healthy pregnancies and successful childbirth. In addition to doctors, hospitals, and other elements of the healthcare system, nurses play a vital role in the process.
Most pregnancies turn out successfully, resulting in a healthy mother and the birth of a healthy baby. Unfortunately, however, mistakes are sometimes made. Medical malpractice, including nursing negligence, can cause substantial harm, and even death, to babies and mothers. In this article, we will discuss some of the forms of nursing malpractice that occur, along with a discussion of the rights of those who are harmed.
The Role of Maternity Nurses
While doctors are generally responsible for the actual delivery of a baby, nurses often have more interaction with pregnant mothers in the earlier stages of childbirth. Nurses offer support, education, and encouragement. Some nurses are involved in prenatal care.
Maternity nurses play an important role in monitoring a patient during labor. This includes checking the cervix for dilation and monitoring vital signs of the mother and child. The nurse communicates carefully with the mother, monitors pain and other symptoms, makes medical evaluations, and communicates with doctors. This is especially important if a woman is experiencing complications. Maternity nurses are also often responsible for administering medications.
Can Midwives Be Sued for Malpractice?
What Is Midwifery?
In general, certified professional midwives are professionals that help care for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. They often work in private homes and birth centers. According to the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM), the guiding principles are to promote a healthy pregnancy and to educate women so that they can better make good decisions about their care during this period. Midwives have education and clinical experience, which allows them to perform this role.
Are Midwives Used Widely?
The answer depends, at least in part, on where you live. Midwifery is more common in many other developed countries than it is in the United States. For example, midwives are involved in more than half of all births in England.
In the United States, midwifery was once more common, with New York City requiring licensing as early as 1716. According to RegisteredNursing.org, a shift to hospitals for childbirth began as anesthesia became more common. By the 1960s, 97 percent of childbirths in the U.S. occurred in hospitals.
Today, there is a renewed interest in America in the use of midwives. One common reason given is that the midwifery model of childbirth is considered less invasive with fewer medical interventions. The Atlantic cites a study reporting that when midwives are involved, fewer pregnancies end in C-section births. Childbirth is treated as a natural event – not a medical event.
Potential Benefits of Midwifery
Scientific American states that America needs more midwives for maternity care. The publication notes that both women and infants have higher mortality rates in the United States than in other developed countries. One advantage is that midwives can assist low-risk pregnancies in rural areas that do not have enough doctors or hospitals.
A study from Oregon State University found that states with laws friendly to midwifery had lower percentages of newborn deaths, premature births, and C-section deliveries. Finally, midwifery can reduce the cost associated with childbirth.
How is Midwifery Regulated in Oregon?
In Oregon, midwives are required to be licensed. The State Board of Direct Entry Midwifery is directed to establish standards for licensure. These standards must be consistent with the requirements established by NARM for becoming a certified professional midwife. A number of other requirements are set out by Oregon Revised Statutes, including section 687.420.
Can Midwives Commit Malpractice?
Yes. Midwives are licensed caregivers, and like other medical professionals, they must meet the applicable standard of care. If they act negligently and cause harm, they can be held responsible for their actions under the law.
Examples of Nursing Negligence
Professionals can commit negligence in many ways – both by acting and by failing to act. Below are some common examples of nursing negligence in a maternity context.
- Medication errors: Medication errors can occur in many ways. For example, a busy nurse with multiple patients can give the wrong medication to the wrong patient. Medication errors can also occur when a nurse gives the correct medication in the wrong dosage amount, or fails to give required medication.
- Failure to properly assess condition: Maternity nurses take a variety of vital signs from pregnant mothers and their babies. They also communicate with mothers to obtain information about their conditions. As medical professionals, they are trained to evaluate all of this information and take appropriate steps in response. A nurse can commit malpractice by failing to recognize emergencies or to take the appropriate steps demanded by the circumstances.
- Negligent communication: Negligent communication can arise through either a failure to communicate or communicating information incorrectly. For example, as a nurse monitors a pregnant mother, the nurse may observe signs that suggest fetal distress or other problems that should be immediately communicated to the doctor. Failure to do so can result in harm to the mother and/or child. Similarly, communicating incorrect information to a doctor can result in incorrect treatment and resulting harm.
Rights of Injured Patients
Medical professionals, including nurses, are required to meet the applicable standard of care. If a nurse fails to act as a reasonable nurse would have acted under the same or similar circumstances, the nurse has not met that standard of care. If the nurse’s negligence causes harm to the patient, the patient is entitled to recover appropriate damages.
Call with Questions
If you or a loved one has suffered injury or death during childbirth or as a result of other medical or nursing malpractice, you will almost certainly have questions about your rights. Medical malpractice cases are usually complicated and require the assistance of expert witnesses and skilled attorneys.
The experienced lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield handle malpractice cases involving medical negligence all around Oregon. Please call us for a free consultation so that we can answer your questions and help you evaluate your rights. We believe that it is essential to hold professionals responsible when they commit malpractice so that all of society will be made safer.