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Kern County Supervisors raise alarm about maternal mortality alongside bereaved family members

Kern County Board of Supervisors Youtube page
Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, right, wiped her eyes during a May 10 meeting as Tracy Dominguez, second from left, shared how her daughter died after doctors failed to identify the warning signs of a severe pregnancy complication.

The Latinx families lost young mothers due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors has declared May 2022 to be Latina Maternal Health Awareness Month, thanks to the advocacy work of bereaved family members of mothers lost in Bakersfield.

First, their letter-writing campaign caught the attention of State Senator Melissa Hurtado, who introduced a bill to increase the accountability of the California Medical Board. Now, the family of Demi Dominguez and her baby boy, who both died in 2019 when doctors failed to identify the warning signs of the pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia, had the opportunity to speak Tuesday at a county supervisors meeting.

“After finding many other mothers here in our community that also lost their life, before Demi and after Demi, I started realizing that there was a problem in our community,” said Demi’s mother Tracy Dominguez. “Latina mothers need the resources that will save their lives and their babies.”

Also present in the supervisors’ chambers were Demi’s fiancé Xavier de Leon and his mother Monique Himes, as well as Monica De La Rosa, whose pregnant daughter Sabrina De La Rosa died in 2020 after being administered fentanyl for labor pains.

The proclamation, which came on Mother’s Day in Mexico, was introduced by Supervisor Leticia Perez, who shared her own struggles to become a mother. “My son Noah spent six weeks in the NICU,” she said. “That was of course as a miracle after three miscarriages, one where I almost lost my life. I was amazed through the process about how little I really knew about how much can go wrong.”

A 2021 report from the California Department of Public Health shows that from 2008-2016, the San Joaquin Valley region including Kern County reported the highest maternal mortality rate in the state.

Michele Monserratt-Ramos, a patient health advocate with the non-profit Consumer Watchdog, said she found that problem especially pronounced in Kern County, where she encountered a cluster of deaths within the Latinx community. “I work with families across the state of California, but there’s nowhere, anywhere in California, where I found a crisis like I did here in Kern County,” she said. “Because of that, I felt the need to focus here in Kern County.”

With the involvement of Tracy and other bereaved family members, Monserratt-Ramos and Consumer Watchdog have been working to help mothers in Kern, many of them Latina, to navigate the healthcare system and become more engaged in their own care.

The proclamation came shortly after Black Maternal Health week, which aims to bring down high rates of maternal mortality and preterm birth within the Black population. It’s recognized nationally every year as the second week of April.

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.