Records reveal Southwest Florida hospitals lagging behind on crucial newborn test

CREATED Feb. 3, 2014

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Moms and dads, when you go to the hospital to have your baby, you trust the staff will do everything they can to make sure your child is as healthy as possible.  But state records reveal many hospitals right here in Southwest Florida are lagging behind when it comes to one crucial newborn test. And it could mean the difference between life and death.

First-time dad Chris Jones watches on as a nurse squeezes out a blood sample from day-old Henry's tiny foot. Those who've been there know - it's all kinda overwhelming. 

“It was pretty crazy. It was our first child, and we didn't know what to expect,” says Chris. 

There's one thing many, if not all, new parents take for granted - it's called the heel-prick or metabolic screening test. It looks for 36 different disorders that children could be born with. The state encourages parents to have their newborn tested within 24 hours of the baby's first feeding. Many times, mom doesn't even realize it's being done, she's so tired. And most parents, if they're lucky, never hear a word of the results.

"At the time of birth, these children don't look or act any different but the disorders can be life-threatening if not found early," says Dr. Jennifer Mayer of All Children’s Hospital. 

So you'd think time were of the essence. In fact, the department of health's guidelines on the newborn screening states: “If lives are to be saved, it's critical the Florida newborn screening laboratory receives the specimen as soon as possible, ideally no later than 24 hours after collection.”

But our partners at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel found delays at several Southwest Florida hospitals in 2012; rural Desoto Memorial in Arcadia, where more than 11% of the samples taken arrived at the state lab 6 or more days after collection, Physicians Regional in Naples, where more than 6% of samples arrived to the lab 6 or more days later, and Cape Coral Hospital, where 6.5% of 2012's nearly 1,000 samples arrived to the lab 6 days or more later. 

Mat Briggs, media relations director with Lee Memorial Health System, which runs Cape Coral Hospital, tells us administrators track the newborn screening test stats because of the test's importance and they noticed problems in one quarter of 2012. 

Briggs: “The lab director and the OB unit director got together to do some retraining and re-education with the staff because you have to make sure everyone's understanding all the time what their role is and how important this test is.”

Those changes were implemented in mid-2013. And new numbers provided by Lee Memorial show improvement, bringing the percentage of delays more in line with state guidelines. 

Briggs: "On average we do less than 2% getting to the state lab in more than five days. And 2% is our goal.” 

Little Henry was born at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where less than 1% of samples took 6 or more days to get to the lab. The hospital did its part, now Henry's dad just has to do his. 

A DeSoto Memorial Hospital spokesperson tells 4 In Your Corner it’s been working with the health department and 2013’s percentage of samples making it to the  lab 6 or more days later is currently down to 4%. 

And Physicians Regional Hospital in Naples has since stopped delivering babies, we’re told, because not enough families were choosing its services.

To read the investigation, CLICK HERE

FOX 4 In Your Corner's Liza Fernandez