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Clark files legislation to protect premature babies

Posted by Marcia Dick  August 17, 2011 10:05 AM

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Over the past 10 years, premature births have been on the rise. In Massachusetts, 11.2 percent of babies arrive before the 37th week of pregnancy, making them more susceptible to numerous health problems.  Premature babies, or "premies," need a myriad of special medical treatments after birth in the neonatal care units of hospitals to help combat problems such as low birth weight, respiratory distress, or jaundice. 

While many babies grow up to live perfectly healthy lives, others are not so fortunate and after they leave the hospital will have to return for further treatments.  The first year is a critical time as premature babies are 15 times more likely than full-term babies to experience fatal complications. Even after passing the one-year mark, many children can have lifelong health problems such as mental disability, blindness, chronic lung disease, or cerebral palsy.

The stress of caring for premies can take a toll, not only emotionally, but financially as medical bills can run into the tens of thousands.  A 2005 study found that the social economic cost associated with premature births was estimate at $26.2 billion as a result of medical bills, educational fees, and lost productivity.

Massachusetts is a leader in medical care and innovation, but more needs to be done to ensure infants are given the best possible care. I have filed legislation that aims to improve healthcare quality of premature babies, during their hospital stay and intervention treatments afterward. This legislation would require statewide standardized procedures for hospital discharge and follow-up hospital care for premature infants.

The standard of care that hospitals provide can vary across the state.  Standardized procedures guarantee infants are discharged from hospitals only after thorough evaluation and more follow-up care.  Massachusetts needs to improve reporting on incidences and causes of rehospitalization of premature infants, to better assess and develop recommendations to improve their quality of life. 

Proper care is critical as we work to improve premature infants’ chances of healthy lives and lessening future lifelong mental and physical difficulties. I have also filed legislation that would require hospitals to distribute educational containing information and expertise about potential complications and support available for treating premature babies. 

Enhanced medical care during the crucial first year can vastly improve an infant’s outcome. It is difficult to predict which women will experience early term labor, but we can ensure that hospitals provide the best care possible to our most vulnerable babies and their parents.

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