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Hospitals explain procedure of sending placentas to lab.

Byline: Tim Christie The Register-Guard

A spokesman for Sacred Heart Medical Center defended the practice of sending women's placentas, sometimes without their knowledge, to a lab funded by malpractice insurers.

Some women learned of the now-defunct Cascadia Placenta Registry only after they had filed lawsuits against doctors and hospitals, The Oregonian reported Sunday. The lab tested the placentas to protect doctors and hospitals from potential lawsuits, the newspaper said.

Hospitals from Washington, California and Oregon, including Sacred Heart Medical Center and McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center, used the registry's services to test as many as 700 placentas between 1995, when it was established, and 2003, when it closed.

The Oregonian said PeaceHealth, which owns Sacred Heart, was among a group of Oregon hospitals that helped finance Cascadia. PeaceHealth spokesman Brian Terrett said doctors practicing at Sacred Heart used the registry, but didn't know for sure whether PeaceHealth helped finance it.

PeaceHealth owns Oregon Medical Labs, the state's largest lab, which does about 1,000 types of medical tests. But doctors still rely on 40 different reference labs, such as Cascadia, to do more specialized or in-depth tests, Terrett said.

Terrett said he didn't know how many times doctors practicing at Sacred Heart sent placentas to Cascadia Placenta Registry. They would do so depending on the nature of a specific case, usually "complex" cases requiring more testing, he said.

When patients are admitted to the hospital, they sign a consent form, giving the hospital and doctors permission to order lab tests as necessary, Terrett said.

"Patients have a right to know these tests were being performed," he said. "We feel confident we're being transparent about what's going to happen. To presuppose a test is being done for (legal) defense purposes is a bit of a leap. Tests are being done to help physicians understand what is happening with a patient."

Portland lawyer Jeffrey Wihtol, who is representing a Portland family in a lawsuit against Providence Health System, said hospitals should have told mothers that their placentas were being tested.

"These mothers were never asked, never told," he said Monday in a phone interview. "This was never done for any care of the patients. It was done to get an advantage should there be litigation years down the road."

Portland lawyer Lawrence Wobbrock, who has looked at dozens of Cascadia's reports, told The Oregonian, "Not one of my clients ever saw the reports, and the doctors never told them about the reports."

But Terrett said in some cases at Sacred Heart, doctors would share results from placental testing with families to help them understand what caused problems during the birth. At other times, "there probably were cases where physicians didn't share that information," he said, "but then again, each case is different."

Terrett said medical testing is done to help doctors understand what happened in a case, and sometimes that information can be used to defend against a lawsuit.

"All pathologies are used by both plaintiff attorneys and defense attorneys," he said. "If a test has been performed, someone is going to use it to their advantage - that's assumed all along."

McKenzie-Willamette spokeswoman Rosie Pryor said the Springfield hospital used the registry at least a few times, not recently. She was unable to provide details, such as how many times or whether mothers were told about it.

"It's something that would have been deployed if there was a questionable outcome on a birth," she said. "It's not something we used frequently."

Many of the women whose placentas were sent to Cascadia were unaware of the practice, including Ann Morton of Eugene.

Morton sued PeaceHealth in 2003 after her son, Cole Morton, underwent a difficult delivery at Sacred Heart on May 29, 2002.

The suit alleged that doctors failed to detect the baby was in fetal distress during delivery, and that they failed to deliver him in a timely manner and failed to perform a timely Cesarean section. At some point during the delivery, fetal monitor alarms were turned off.

At delivery, he was limp, blue and not breathing, according to the suit. His parents say he suffered severe brain damage, causing cerebral palsy, lack of normal growth and impaired ability to eat and swallow. Cole will require full-time assistance and medical care for life, the suit said. The family sought noneconomic damages of up to $10 million, as well as economic damages of up to $17 million for Cole.

The case accumulated three volumes of legal documents, totalling about foot and a half thick, and went to trial last November. Five days into the trial in Lane County Circuit Court, the parties reached an undisclosed settlement.

During discovery, attorneys learned that PeaceHealth had sent Morton's placenta to Cascadia Placenta Registry.

"PeaceHealth routinely and regularly relied on the services of Cascadia for nearly a decade before Cole Morton's birth," one filing by his attorneys says.

Cascadia's report blamed an infection for her son's problems, Ann Morton told The Oregonian.
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Title Annotation:Health; Sacred Heart and McKenzie-Willamette medical centers sent them for testing between 1995 and 2003
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 14, 2006
Words:824
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