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|
|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|
|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|
|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.