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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

November 19, 2013 at 4:35 PM

Some local hospitals not quickly screening all newborns

Swedish/First Hill in Seattle (Photo: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons)

Swedish Medical Center on First Hill (Photo: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons)


Unless you’re a parent or medical professional, you may not know that all newborn babies in Washington and across the country have their blood screened to detect rare diseases.

The timing of blood screenings is critically important because newborns afflicted with certain rare disorders can fall sick within just a few days of leaving the hospital.  Early detection through these screenings saves 12,000 babies each year in the United States from death or irreversible harm.

Unfortunately, nine hospitals in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties did not screen all newborn babies for dangerous genetic disorders within an acceptable window of time, according to a new investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Federal guidelines recommend that blood samples from newborns reach the lab within three days. Five days or longer is considered dangerous by many lab directors, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Twelve hospitals in our area had perfect records in 2012 — 100 percent of samples reached the lab before five days. But, as indicated in the table below, for nine local hospitals a fraction of newborn blood samples took five or more days to reach the lab.

At Highline Medical Center* in Burien, nearly 6 percent of screenings failed to arrive at the lab in this critical period of time.   At Swedish Medical Center on First Hill in Seattle, where more babies are born than any other hospital in Washington, 214 blood samples took at least five days to be tested in 2012.  At Evergreen Health in Kirkland, it was 103 samples.

Screening delays can happen because a blood sample might be misplaced at the hospital or not timely handled. Or the lab performing the screening might be closed over the weekend, adding potentially harmful delay.

Two hospitals in Spokane had the poorest record for screenings in 2012: Valley Hospital and Medical Center (28.35 percent) and Deaconess Medical Center (17.91 percent).

Overall, we do pretty well in Washington, where newborns are tested for 28 different conditions. Statewide, 2,076 samples, or 1.93 percent, took five or more days to reach a lab.

Among the 26 states that provided screening data to the Journal Sentinel, Iowa had the lowest rate of delayed screenings (.18 percent) and Arizona had the highest (16.65 percent).



Facility City 2012 samples 5+ days %
Highline Medical Center* Burien 1572 92 5.85
Swedish Medical Center on First Hill Seattle 8682 214 2.46
Evergreen Health Kirkland 4926 103 2.09
Multicare-Good Samaritan Hospital Puyallup 2330 28 1.20
Auburn Medical Center-Multicare Auburn 501 5 1.00
Valley Medical Center Renton 4638 35 0.75
Providence-Everett Medical Center Everett 4797 29 0.60
Swedish Hospital-Issaquah Issaquah 1313 5 0.38
Madigan Army Medical Center Tacoma 5285 7 0.13
Overlake Hospital Medical Center Bellevue 4244 0 0
Group Health Cooperative-Seattle Seattle 1882 0 0
Seattle Children’s Hospital Seattle 609 0 0
St. Elizabeth Hospital Enumclaw 444 0 0
St. Francis Hospital Federal Way 1201 0 0
St. Joseph Hospital Tacoma 5540 0 0
Swedish Hospital-Ballard Seattle 1024 0 0
Swedish Hospital-Edmonds Edmonds 1666 0 0
Tacoma General Hospital Tacoma 3771 0 0
U.W. Medicine-Northwest Hospital Seattle 1921 0 0
University of Washington Medical Center Seattle 2383 0 0
Cascade Valley Hospital Arlington 401 0 0
Valley General Hospital Monroe N/A N/A N/A

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


*Update: I received a statement regarding this data from a representative of Highline Medical Center; it can be read by clicking here.


Comments | More in Public Records, Reports | Topics: health care, hospitals


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