The Mass General Brigham hospital system will no longer alert authorities about suspected abuse in newborns exposed to drugs, citing concerns that it may disproportionately affect the Black community

In addition to the new measure of not reporting alleged cases of negligence, hospital authorities will now require written consent to perform toxicological tests.

Hospitals within the Massachusetts General Brigham system will no longer alert authorities to suspected abuse or neglect of children just because they are born exposed to drugs; in fact, they will now require written consent before performing a narcotics test on the expectant mother or her child. This means that now there will be no accurate record of cases in which parents use drugs, which could affect the future of their children.

The decision announced and published on the hospital’s social networks is addressing alleged “racial and ethnic inequities” present in medical care. They add that substance abuse disorder in the context of pregnancy “disproportionately affects Black individuals.” However, users report that failing to record these cases will have a negative effect that will impact the health and growth of Black children.

For hospital network authorities, the fact that a baby has been exposed to a substance will not, in itself, require a report of abuse or neglect. They assure that “other protective concerns” will be needed to detect these cases.

It’s part of a series of changes coming to Massachusetts’ largest healthcare system, which includes Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and six other hospitals with delivery units in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“Those structural policies may not be written in a way that screams racism, but if you dig down deep,” they create inequities, said Allison Bryant, associate chief health equity officer at Mass General Brigham. “We have 18,000 plus births a year, they’re all in different hospitals. And as we become an integrated system, we’re really trying to get some clarity and uniformity around what we do,” she added.

Some states have moved to make similar changes, including Connecticut, which in 2019 created a system under which hospitals can submit a notification of a substance-exposed newborn without identifying the baby by name. Healthcare providers there also complete a separate evaluation, and if they report concerns about the child’s well-being, this may trigger a DCF investigation.

A 2022 study from the University of Connecticut found that of the more than 4,700 notifications reviewed, 79% involved exposure to marijuana and not opioids.

Likewise, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health published a report last year saying it intended to issue new guidelines for a “dual reporting system,” in which substance-exposed newborns can be identified “but not investigated” if there is no indication they have been exposed, neglected or abused.

Social networks explode with outrage

On its X account, the Mass General Brigham system republished the article from The Boston Globe, the media in charge of reporting on the new policies. As a result, dozens of users were outraged by the decision. They called the hospital negligent and complicit in “the drug epidemic harming babies in the Black community.” They claim that this is a “ridiculously harmful” policy that will especially harm Black children.

“If Black mothers are using drugs at a higher rate than mothers of other races, and of their own accord, how is that racist to report for the safety of the newborn baby?@MassGenBrigham is complicit in the drug epidemic harming babies in the Black community. Second there are no pregnant people but pregnant women. When medicine begins to be practiced on the foundation of lies, people die. This type of behavior should lead to crippling malpractice lawsuits against MGB. This isn’t sound medicine,” noted user Eddie Tarazona.

“This decision is going to harm children, and by your own admission, it will harm disproportionately Black children. This is a ridiculously harmful policy, whoever is making these decisions needs to go find another career,” denounced another X user.