M  v. Fairview: Compassion and Dignity for Patients with Postpartum Depression

M v. Fairview:

Compassion and Dignity for Patients with Postpartum Depression

After seeking help for postpartum depression, our client was placed on an involuntary 72-hour medical hold and – in violation of Minnesota’s Human Rights Act – experienced a series of disturbing breaches to her personal privacy and bodily autonomy.

Postpartum depression is a common, treatable condition that affects 1 in 8 women in the United States.

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Maria went to the Fairview Lakes Medical Center in November 2016 expecting to find a compassionate ear and appropriate care for complications related to postpartum depression and fears about being able to provide her newborn with enough nutrients through breastfeeding. Instead of getting help, Maria was humiliated, violated and mistreated. In a lawsuit filed on February 12, 2021, Gender Justice argues that Fairview Lakes Medical Center violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act when it failed to provide Maria the care she needed and to respond appropriately to her requests for a clean, safe space to pump breastmilk for her 8-week-old baby.

Maria’s plan had always been to exclusively breastfeed her son for his first several months, but struggled with painful mastitis and milk production. She sought help from a lactation specialist, and together they decided that the  best course of action – for her son and her own health – was to exclusively pump.

Lactation mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue – often as a result of a plugged milk duct – that can lead to painful swelling, inflammation, and fever.

As a first-time mother, Maria was feeling overwhelmed by the physical and emotional demands of a new baby – and her ongoing struggle to produce enough milk was only exacerbating her stress and anxiety. But as a long-time therapist and mental health care provider, she had the experience to recognize her own postpartum depression, and knew when it was time to reach out for help.

Postpartum depression is a common, treatable condition that affects 1 IN 8 women in the United States.

Maria detailed her concerns about postpartum depression with her regular OB/GYN, who determined that Maria’s condition didn’t require medication right away, but suggested she schedule a follow-up appointment to start treatment before her maternity leave ended in the coming weeks.

A few days later, a friend encouraged Maria not to wait, to seek treatment right away. Maria wasn’t able to schedule an appointment with her regular OB/GYN on short notice, so she sought care at the Fairview Emergency Department. Given her years of professional experience helping people experiencing mental health crises and connecting them with appropriate services, Maria had a pretty clear idea of what to expect and how her visit should go.

Postpartum depression is often treated with talk therapy or other mental health counseling, medication, or both.

During her intake at Fairview Emergency Department, Maria requested a lactation consultant for her chronic mastitis and breastfeeding challenges. She requested to see a psychiatrist or other mental health care provider to discuss medication for her postpartum depression and anxiety, as her OB/GYN has recommended.

But instead of receiving the care she needed, and that was recommended by her regular doctor, Maria was strip-searched and placed on an involuntary 72-hour mental health hold by the ER doctor on duty, a medical acupuncturist who is neither a maternal nor mental health specialist.

Breastfeeding mothers – especially those dealing with mastitis – need to stay hydrated, eat throughout the day, and either pump or breastfeed every 2–3 hours.

Several hours passed before Maria received a breast pump, food, or even a cup of water. She was denied a safe and sanitary means to pump and store milk for her child. Not only was she denied a private space to pump – there was even a camera in her room that was broadcasting out to the hallway, where anyone walking by could see her as she pumped. Maria was also denied the opportunity to consult with her regular OB/GYN, who was on call just a few floors above where Maria was detained.

That’s where Gender Justice came in.

On Maria’s behalf, Gender Justice filed a complaint in February 2021, asserting that Fairview Emergency Department violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act when it failed to provide Maria the basic health care, compassion, and dignity she had every right to expect.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination in public accommodations, such as violating Maria’s privacy and failing to provide her appropriate, adequate medical care related to breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

Gender Justice is proud to stand up for Maria and others like her, and help ensure that the law protects all Minnesotans’ ability to get the health care they need.

Read the complaint here

Legal Documents

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