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Moms and Babies at Risk

Kerry Klein
Tracy Dominguez holds up the funeral announcement for her daughter Demi Dominguez and grandson Malakhi De Leon. Demi had a pregnancy-related blood pressure condition known as preeclampsia that went undiagnosed and proved fatal to her and her son.

Giving birth is safer in California than in most of the country. And yet the San Joaquin Valley, and Kern County specifically, lag behind.

The county’s infant mortality rate is one of the highest in California – more than 50% higher than the state average. Mothers, too, die too often here: The Valley’s maternal mortality rate is the worst in California, more than 34% higher than the state average.

The Medical Board of California investigated one Bakersfield obstetrician following several infant and maternal deaths. The agency accused Dr. Arthur Park of gross negligence on three separate occasions. Twice, the agency revoked his license but stayed the revocation and placed him under probation. He continued practicing for more than 20 years after his first medical board investigation until voluntarily surrendering his license in late 2021.

This series by KVPR reporter Kerry Klein investigates why rates of pregnancy-related deaths are so high in Kern County and explores what’s being done about them. It also probes the systems that allowed a doctor accused multiple times of gross negligence to remain in practice and highlights the stories of people trying to reform those systems.