(NewsNation) — Two New Jersey mothers never thought what they had for breakfast would impact their birth stories. According to complaints filed with the state, the two mothers had poppy seed bagels for breakfast before delivering their babies, were drug-tested without consent and became subject to investigation and potentially losing their newborns after the results returned positive for opiates.
The complaints from “Kaitlin K.” against Virtua Voorhees Hospital and “Kate L.” against Hackensack University Medical tell similar stories to New Jersey’s Department of Law and Public Safety Division on Civil Rights.
Kaitlin K. went to Virtua Voorhees Hospital to deliver her second child Oct. 20 of last year. Kate L. went to Hackensack University Medical Center to have her first baby Sept. 20 of last year.
Both women gave urine samples to the hospitals and said they had routinely given samples to their OBGYNs for protein testing. They both say the hospitals, without their knowledge, performed drug tests on their samples.
Kaitlin K. saw her drug test came back positive for opiates through an online patient portal and claims no one from the hospital spoke with her about the results, so she figured it must have been an error. That afternoon, she went on to deliver her 9-pound baby boy. Kaitlin said her child stayed in the hospital room with her for most of the rest of that day.
It wasn’t until the following day, the complaint says, a hospital employee and medical professional came into Kaitlin’s room and informed her of the positive test results. Kaitlin reportedly told the nurse about eating a poppy seed bagel, who agreed the seeds could have caused a positive result, the complaint says.
That afternoon, the complaint says a case worker told Kaitlin if a second test came back positive, the hospital would contact the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP).
“She did not think she had reason to worry; she had nothing to hide,” the complaint states.
While her baby’s tests came back negative, the hospital told Kaitlin her second test came back positive and that she would be reported to DCPP.
“Kaitlin paced her hospital room, terrified that her child would be taken from her. She could not sit down or stay still. She felt confused, anxious, and as if she was being audited as a mom,” the complaint states.
It continued: “She was living a nightmare.”
Kaitlin’s complaint, backed by the state’s ACLU chapter, insists that the hospital’s testing cutoff level for the urine sample was “dramatically lower” than recommended federal guidelines.
The test results triggered multiple DCPP inspections of her home, interviews of her 7-year-old child and more testing. At the end of the process, the agency determined the allegations of abuse reported by the hospital were “unfounded” and ended their investigation.
Still, the complaint states: “Kaitlin fears that the initial positive test results will be part of her permanent electronic medical record, as well as her baby’s medical record, and cause all subsequent doctors who view it to distrust her as a patient and as a mother.”
Like Kaitlin, Kate L. reported having a bagel containing poppy seeds for breakfast the morning she went to the hospital to deliver her child. During her pregnancy, Kate craved “everything bagels” that often have poppy seeds sprinked on top. She says she ate the bagels two to three times a week while pregnant.
Kate had her baby Sept. 21 of last year and the child was moved to the NICU for several days. Three days later, the complaint says a doctor explained to Kate that her child could not leave the hospital because Kate’s urine sample had tested positive for drugs, despite the child not showing signs of withdrawal or being diagnosed with either neonatal opioid withdrawal symptoms or neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Kate questioned whether the test result could be a false positive, but the hospital ultimately contacted DCPP due to their protocol, reporting Kate for possible child abuse and neglect.
“Shortly after the social worker called DCPP, several administrative staff members entered Kate’s hospital room. They were apologetic and could not explain why Kate or her family members had not been informed about the drug test or the results. During the conversation, the administrative staff members admitted that the positive opiate result could have been a false positive,” the complaint states.
Kate provided another sample for a new drug test and the results came back negative for all substances. After an inspection of her home, DCPP cleared Kate to bring her baby home, but the complaint states that the baby was not discharged from the hospital until five days after it was cleared by DCPP.
Kate, like Kaitlin, was subject to a DCPP investigation for the next two months and the allegations against her were “unfounded.”
“I felt like the doctors were questioning my character and parenting skills,” Kate L. told the ACLU. “I’m terrified of ever going to a hospital again; I’m always going to worry that our family could be torn apart. That’s why we are doing all we can to stop this from happening to anyone else.”
The Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study that examined the results of 317,000 urine specimens tested for opiates and reviewed by three medical review officer groups, as well as 1.1 million specimens from five certified laboratories, in which the medical review officers reversed 87% for false positives.
“On Balance” host Leland Vittert acknowledged that testing may be needed in heartbreaking situations to protect children, but ACLU New Jersey attorney Molly Linhorst said regardless, consent should be given before testing is conducted.
“These sorts of tests unnecessarily expose people to what’s a really invasive investigation. (…) The fact of the matter is testing someone without their specific informed consent is going to eliminate trust,” Linhorst told Vittert.
Both mothers are seeking compensatory damages for mental suffering, compensation to cover medical expenses and attorney fees.