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Top Errors in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

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The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), with its beeping machines and blinking screens, can be a frightening place for new parents. Hospital employees rush around tiny newborns attached to tubes and machines as you watch helplessly, worried about your baby’s health and hoping for their full recovery. While the medical care provided to those particularly fragile infants in the NICU can be extremely beneficial, sometimes lifesaving, this part of the hospital is also a place rife with errors and malpractice. Babies in the NICU are in need of even more specialized care, with intensive monitoring and precise delivery of treatment. They also require immediate responsiveness on the part of doctors, nurses, and medical staff when changes in their current state suggest the possibility that something is amiss. Unfortunately, failures on the part of those responsible for caring for your newborn in the NICU, however small, can result in permanent damage. When your baby is injured in the NICU, you certainly want to know what could have happened and how you and your family may go about seeking redress. Please feel free to call 866-708-8617 or fill out our convenient online form to request a free consultation and review of your child’s case. Our neonatal malpractice lawyers in New Jersey are available anytime to provide the personalized guidance and assistance you may need.

Newborn Conditions Requiring Care in the NICU

The NICU, or newborn intensive care unit, is where premature, sick, and injured babies are cared for 24 hours a day by neonatal care specialists, such as neonatologists, neonatal nurses, dietitians, lactation consultants, and various therapists. This critical unit is filled with specialized equipment to help babies breathe, eat, and regulate their hearts. Many of the babies who must spend days, weeks, or even months in the NICU are premature and/or suffering from medical conditions, primarily breathing, eating, and regulation problems. Premature babies, delivered earlier than 37 weeks of pregnancy and weighing less than 5.5 pounds, require constant care and monitoring and so, often end up in the NICU.

However, newborns in the NICU may present with several conditions that require extraordinary care and observation by healthcare providers. Aside from prematurity, infants with Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) due to undeveloped lungs, require breathing assistance with machines, tubes or ventilators that produce oxygen that the baby breathes from a mask. Other difficulties breathing, including prior lack of oxygen during the labor and delivery process (perinatal asphyxia), may bring infants to the NICU as well. Another reason for newborns ending up in the NICU is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, a condition not only common to premature babies, but also to full-term babies of mothers with gestational diabetes and those suffering from infections.

Many newborns have prolonged stays in the NICU due to sepsis, a severe infection that requires a long trial of antibiotics to control. Infections are especially dangerous to newborns, premature or full-term, whose immune systems are immature, weak, or compromised. Accordingly, sepsis is a common source of neonatal death and permanent injury. Whether the infection comes from the environment, a transmissible maternal infection, an infected placenta or umbilical cord (maternal chorioamnionitis), an infant with a severe infection generally stays in the NICU until the infection is cleared. Aside from infection, many infants with heart problems and birth defects become long-term patients in the NICU. Notably, it is not uncommon for babies in the NICU to suffer from multiple conditions.

Common Types of Malpractice in Neonatal Intensive Care Units

Some of the challenges facing NICU physicians and nurses are the numerous medications and treatments that must be coordinated and calibrated by birth weight, age, and ability. Premature and underdeveloped newborns have varying degrees of metabolism and absorption capabilities, so medication dosage, frequency, and dilution are critical. Not only must the dosage be precise, but choosing the right medications to interact with other medications without worsening other health conditions is challenging. Studies have demonstrated that the more complex a patient’s condition, the more likely it is for medication errors to occur. In fact, NICU neonates are eight-times more likely to suffer medication errors than hospitalized adults.

Other medication errors occur in prescribing and administering to the highly fragile NICU patient. Prescription errors include not only incorrect doses, but also improper method of administration (intravenously or otherwise), and how often the medication is given to the infant. Sometimes, the prescription is illegible or imprecise on dosage or length of time that the prescription should run. Moreover, medication administration errors occur when nurses do not follow physician orders, like when and how to deliver the medication or what medications to give. Other times, the wrong medication is given to the patient or the right medication is given to the wrong patient. And nurses may give medication to a baby after the ordering physician discontinued its use. These may be individual errors or part of a larger systemic communication gap at some facilities.

Largely because neonates undergo so much external and internal testing, they are also more exposed to infections from the environment, especially at tube entry sites into the body. Tubing misconnection errors are also common in the NICU, when tubing from IV’s connecting to feeding tubes dislodge or are forcibly fitted together, making them easier to disconnect. Other errors that cause newborns injury in neonatal intensive care units involve operation or treatment errors and misidentification of individual patients that result in infants undergoing unnecessary procedures or even harmful courses of treatment. In still other cases, infant resuscitation mistakes lead to delays or insufficient oxygen administration, ultimately allowing for substantial brain cell death and lifelong cognitive impairment.

Finally, delays in diagnosis and treatment can cause unnecessary injury and even death for babies in the NICU, such as failing to diagnose and timely treat jaundice, hypothermia, hypoglycemia, brain hemorrhages, and seizures, which can lead to brain damage or other permanent injuries.

Injuries Caused by NICU Negligence

Conditions such as cerebral palsy (CP), lifelong seizure disorders, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), cognitive disabilities, and developmental delays are among the chief and most damaging results of medical errors and negligence in neonatal intensive care units. These tragic instances occur all too often in New Jersey and across the United States.

Contact New Jersey NICU Errors Lawyers to Discuss Your Case

If you believe your baby’s unnecessary pain, suffering, and extended hospital stay could have been avoided had medical errors not happened in the neonatal intensive care unit, consult with a knowledgeable New Jersey NICU malpractice attorney on our legal team for further answers as to how this tragedy might have occurred and what you can do. You have options, so don’t delay in finding out more. Consultations are free and available by calling 866-708-8617 now.


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