Sacred Heart Hospital near top of Florida for childbirth complications

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Sacred Heart Hospital near top of state for childbirth complications, investigation finds

USA Today Network found Sacred Heart is a state leader in childbirth complications, but also takes high-risk pregnancies.

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Sacred Heart Hospital near top of state for childbirth complications, investigation finds

Kevin Robinson, Pensacola News Journal
Published 6:00 a.m. CT March 8, 2019

Shantel Smith developed an infection after a stillbirth at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans in 2011. In an ongoing lawsuit, Smith alleges that delayed diagnosis and treatment resulted in devastating amputations of her legs and hands.
Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY


Sacred Heart Hospital ranks near the top of the state in terms of childbirth complications, a USA Today Network investigation found.

Nationally, the median rate for severe childbirth-related complications or deaths is about 1.3 percent, and Florida’s rate is about 1.4 percent. Sacred Heart’s rate is 3.2 percent for its approximately 14,400 deliveries between 2014 and 2017, according to the network’s analysis.

Hospital officials say Sacred Heart has been proactive and aggressive in implementing best practices that keep moms and babies safe, and its numbers reflect the fact that the hospital handles the majority of the region’s riskiest deliveries.

“We are one of only 13 Perinatal Intensive Care Centers in Florida,” a statement from the hospital said. “In that role, we receive hundreds of referrals of women, some from 100-150 miles away in South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, who have been identified as having high-risk pregnancies.” 

According to Sacred Heart, the hospital delivers about 4,000 babies a year and has experienced no maternal deaths in more than five years.

It is important to note that complication rates — known as “severe maternal morbidity” rates  — in isolation are not an indicator of the overall quality of maternal care provided at any given hospital.

Sacred Heart officials did not consent to an in-person interview, but sent written responses to a number of questions posed by the network about its maternal care policies and practices.

Find childbirth complication rates at nearly 1,000 hospitals across the U.S.
How often do women’s deliveries turn deadly? USA TODAY calculated rates of life-threatening complications in 13 states where we obtained data. Used by hospitals, insurance companies and researchers, these rates are often kept secret from patients. Until now. Search our database:

In a statement, Dr. Julie DeCesare, an obstetrician at Sacred Heart Health System and chair of the Maternal Health Subcommittee of the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative, said Sacred Heart’s physicians are committed to improving all aspects of women’s health in Northwest Florida. 

Sacred Heart is one of about 50 hospitals in the state that participates in the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative, an initiative established in 2010 to improve Florida’s maternal and infant health outcomes. 

“The top two reasons for moms to die in Florida are from maternal hemorrhage (blood loss) and maternal hypertension (high blood pressure),” DeCesare’s statement said. “The FPQCC has launched statewide quality initiatives in both maternal hemorrhage and maternal hypertension. I am proud to say that Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola participated in both projects. We also are participating in an FPQC project aimed at reducing unnecessary Cesarean sections.”

It is estimated that about half of maternal deaths and severe complications are entirely preventable. The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health — a coalition of health care organizations dedicated to ending preventable maternal mortality and morbidity — states that “the most common complications associated with childbirth involve denial and delayed response from the health care team.”

In many instances, medical staff will rely on their own visual estimates of how much blood loss seems to be “normal” or “too much.” There are also issues with medical staff failing to take regular blood pressure readings, and only reacting to a mother with high blood pressure once she is already in distress.

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Sacred Heart uses the “Florida Hypertension in Pregnancy” toolkit to monitor blood pressure and blood loss, as well as keeping postpartum “hemorrhage carts” in its labor and delivery unit and postpartum wards to quickly stem blood loss. The hospital has also implemented regularly recurring physician and nurse education as well as annual, multidisciplinary simulation of hemorrhage and hypertensive emergencies.

Additionally, Sacred Heart partners with the OB Hospitalist Group to ensure that a board-certified physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology is in the hospital 24 hours a day.

“This service has resulted in a significant reduction of serious safety events over the past four years,” said Dr. Joseph Peterson, OB/GYN and assistant director of the OB/GYN Residency program. “We are on the front lines of caring for those patients with obstetrical hemorrhage or hypertensive emergencies when they come through our door in an emergency or when a patient already in the hospital has an unexpected complication.”

Kevin Robinson can be reached at and 850-435-8527.

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