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Mother describes tragedy of early hospital discharge


WASHINGTON -- The child born to Virginia Leigh Fallon of Petaluma, Calif., entered the world last year with heart and breathing problems, and after an extraordinarily difficult labor that ended only when doctors performed a Caesarean section.

Yet three days after the birth, the hospital -- under pressure to hold down costs -- discharged mother and son, even though baby Jesse had been diagnosed with a heart murmur and Ms. Fallon was, in her words, "in continuous pain."

Several days later, Ms. Fallon told a Senate committee yesterday, Jesse was rushed to the hospital, where emergency heart surgery failed to save the boy's life.

Unfortunately, members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee said, Ms. Fallon's tragic experience was not unique.

Health care providers, under growing pressure to cut costs, are discharging new mothers as quickly as possible -- and sometimes far too soon, in the opinion of many doctors and patients.

In some cases, mother and child have been released from the hospital eight hours after delivery.

Faced with growing concerns over this national trend, a bipartisan group of 11 senators, headed by Sens. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, a Kansas Republican, and Bill Bradley, a New Jersey Democrat, are sponsoring a bill to guarantee mothers at least 48 hours of hospital recuperation -- up to 96 hours for C-section patients.

The legislation may be a sign of things to come as the government, which is pressuring the health care industry to cut costs, intervenes to keep medical providers from taking steps Congress believes go too far.

The measure now in the Senate is modeled after new laws in New Jersey and Maryland.

Referring to baby Jesse's emergency surgery and last days of life, which cost nearly $80,000, his mother asked: "How much does one or two more days in a hospital cost?"

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