For-profit hospitals are like other businesses: They explore different revenue streams at every board meeting, they have to answer to shareholders, and they occasionally take a tacky detour from what many of us still believe is a mostly altruistic mission.
But the Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center has crossed a line by taking an aggressive leap into the so-called birth tourism industry – the practice of soliciting pregnant Russian women to come to Secaucus to deliver their babies, which makes the newborns U.S. citizens.
As an enlightening series from N.J. Spotlight explains, birth tourism is common and legal, but Meadowlands officials are using false advertising in its “AmeriMama” program to draw clients, and this deserves the attention of watchdogs and legislators alike.
Because it’s one thing to promote your neonatal program; it’s another thing to peddle it on a global platform when your record for neonatal care is poor.
The Russian-language AmeriMama website depicts Meadowlands as a clean and efficient place to have a child, with a Russian-speaking staff and a convenient location just miles from Manhattan. Come for the epidural, stay for the shopping, is their basic sales pitch.
But according to NJ Spotlight, MHMC boldly claims that it is “considered one of the best not only in New York City, but in the U.S. in general” – and that’s an arrogant manipulation of the truth, even for the most expensive hospital in the country.
MHMC is not one of the best hospitals in the area; in fact, when it comes to neonatal care, its record is grim, according to Leapfrog, which monitors hospitals nationwide and updates their report cards every six months.
Look up Meadowlands’ track record on early elective deliveries, or inductions performed prior to 39 weeks of gestation. These often result in an increased risk, longer stays, and higher costs, and should not be done without medical necessity. Some New Jersey hospitals (such as Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, Holy Name in Teaneck) have a rate of zero percent, and a five-percent rate is considered acceptable. MHMC has a rate of, wait for it, 61.4 percent.
Or consider its record on Cesareans, which carry serious risks of infection or blood clots for the mother and breathing difficulties for babies: Leapfrog’s target for all hospitals is 23.9 percent, but Meadowlands’ rate for C-sections is 41.3 percent.
Then there are episiotomies, the incision made in the birth canal during childbirth, which are now linked with perineal tears, bladder and bowel complications, and pelvic floor defects. Leapfrog says hospitals should not have a rate higher than 5 percent. Meadowlands’ rate is 30.9 percent, down from 43 percent last year.
And most significantly, MHMC expresses pride in its “Intermediate (Level II) Nursery” for high-risk and premature babies, but it does not have a neonatal intensive care unit – an critical necessity for a hospital with so many early deliveries. The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute has been stonewalled in its attempt to learn where those newborns are transferred.
This is the kind of information expectant mothers need to know – whether they come from Moscow or Moonachie – because it’s a little more important than where the shopping bargains are. MHMC, and programs like AmeriMama, need a new set of rules to follow.