Healthcare News & Insights

False positive leads hospital to call mom an addict; state takes newborn


A soon-to-be-mom’s mistimed snack and a hospital’s too-aggressive stance on drug testing add up to one messy lawsuit.

Last April, Elizabeth Mort ate an “Everything” bagel with poppy seeds from Dunkin’ Donuts two hours before she went into labor and was taken to Jameson Hospital in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Although it’s not required by law, the hospital routinely gives all mothers in labor a drug test.

Mort gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Isabella, and both were released to go home shortly after. One day after they had been released, Lawrence County Child and Youth Services (LCCYS) and local police showed up at Mort’s home and took the child into custody because the hospital claimed she had failed the drug test.

Five days later, Isabella was returned home after an investigation determined that Mort wasn’t on drugs, had never been on drugs, and the false positive was most likely caused by the poppy seeds on her bagel.

Call the lawyers

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the ACLU chapter in Pennsylvania has announced it’s suing the hospital on behalf of Elizabeth Mort, her fiance Alex Rodriguez and baby Isabella.

The organization is questioning several aspects of both the hospital’s and LCCYS’ policies. For starters, it’s unclear why the hospital tests all maternity patients and how it uses that information. The ACLU is also questioning why no attempt was made to interview Mort, her fiance or other family members or her obstetrician before alerting LCCYS about her “addiction.”

According to the ACLU, the hospital uses a much lower threshold for determining when a sample is positive for drugs — 300 nanograms/mL or more. Federal workplace guidelines put the threshold at 2000 nanograms/mL specifically to avoid false positives from other drugs or foods.

But who’s more to blame: The hospital for reporting the results of the test to LCCYS, or LCCYS for acting without getting additional information first? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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