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Bakersfield doctor under third investigation for gross negligence surrenders his medical license

Andrew Nixon
Capital Public Radio

The decision follows years of lawsuits and patient deaths.

Since 1999, the Medical Board of California has opened three investigations against Bakersfield obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Arthur Park, all involving accusations of gross negligence following the deaths of mothers and/or their babies during childbirth. Twice, in 2000 and 2020,the board recommended he lose his license but then stayed the decision, allowing him to continue practicing under probation and requiring he complete remedial education.

Earlier this year, however, the state filed a third accusation against Park, following thehighly publicized 2019 death of 23-year-old Demi Dominguez and her newborn baby. Dominguez died of the severe pregnancy complication preeclampsia after Park and another physician in his practice, Dr. Hans Yu, both failed to adequately address her high blood pressure during two medical appointments in the week leading up to her death. Her son Malakhi, who was delivered by emergency cesarean section while doctors attempted to resuscitate her, died only hours after his birth.

If you’ve ever worked with Dr. Arthur Park, or if you’re a former patient of his, we’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to reporter Kerry Klein at kerry@kvpr.org.

The medical board in its March 2021 accusation wrote that although Park claimed to have assessed Dominguez three times during a short stay at Mercy Hospital Southwest four days before her death, there was no documentation in her medical record that he ever directly evaluated her before prescribing her with blood pressure medication and discharging her from the hospital. According to the board's accusation, Park was “grossly negligent in his care and treatment” of Dominguez and that both his failure to adequately evaluate her and his failure to diagnose her with preeclampsia were “an extreme departure from the applicable standard of care.”

Earlier this month, before the medical board and attorney general’s office could finish their investigation,Park agreed to surrender his medical license.

“I’m pleased that mothers in Bakersfield will be a little bit safer with Dr. Park no longer practicing,” said Michele Monserratt-Ramos, a patient advocate with the non-profit group Consumer Watchdog. “How many lives will be saved and how many mothers and babies will avoid harm because that particular physician will no longer be able to practice? At the end of the day that’s incredibly meaningful.”

However, Monserratt-Ramos is disappointed that Park no longer has to appear in front of a judge. He had been scheduled to testify about Dominguez’s case during an administrative hearing in early January, but because the goal of the hearing was to determine whether Park should keep his license, it was cancelled once he agreed to stop practicing.

Demi Dominguez’s mother, Tracy Dominguez, was originally subpoenaed to speak during the hearing. She feels the medical board should have revoked his license long ago, but also laments that she won’t have the opportunity to address him in person. “I’m angry still,” she said. “I’m angry because my daughter’s life is gone, and Malakhi’s, and she deserved a life. I’m mad at both the doctors. Everybody failed her that whole week. It was just one mess after another.”

In the years since her daughter’s death, Tracy Dominguez and Monseratt-Ramos have publicly advocated for more accountability from doctors and the medical board, and in 2020 launched a campaign to send thousands of letters to local legislators urging them to do the same. The effort ultimately motivated State Senator Melissa Hurtado and Assemblyman Vince Fong to speak about Dominguez’s case during a legislative hearing about the medical board in April of this year.

Now, Tracy Dominguez plans to start a foundation and college scholarship in her daughter’s name, and is continuing with a lawsuit against Park, Yu and Mercy Hospital Southwest to seek justice for her daughter and grandson’s deaths. “He’s not going to get rid of me, the medical board is not going to get rid of me, I will speak her story until I die,” she said.

Between the medical board’s three investigations and another nine lawsuits alleging malpractice, negligence or wrongful death, public records show Dominguez and her son were among at least five babies and two mothers who have died while under Park’s care. Many others argue their children were permanently injured during childbirth.

Park agreed to surrender his license as of December 30 and will be eligible to apply for it again in two years. A representative of his medical office on Brimhall Road said the doctor had retired and offered no further comment.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.