State Medical Board Turns Attention to Kern’s High Maternal Death Rate

After years of local advocacy, Kern County’s high maternal mortality has grabbed the attention of the state’s medical board.

The board chose Bakersfield for its most recent meeting, held last week. An agency representative told KVPR this was likely the first time the board had held a meeting there. 

“The fact that this is happening here today is really an incredible indicator not only that the organizing is successful, but that important people, the right people, are listening,” said Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez.

Those with loved ones who died during pregnancy or childbirth recounted their experience at the meeting and called for action to improve the safety of mothers in Kern County. Consumer Watchdog, which is advocating for disciplinary action against some Kern County health providers, also had representatives at the meeting.

Kern has one of the state’s highest maternal and infant mortality rates. The California Department of Public Health says it doesn’t know why Kern — and the Central Valley as a whole — are faring so poorly. The issue is being looked at closely. Income disparities, lack of healthcare access, and environmental factors are among the potential causes.

Kern’s pregnancy-related mortality rate has improved relative to the state average over the past decade. But the progress is waning. 

“Between 2009 and 2013, the pregnancy related mortality rate in Kern County was about 82% higher than the average across California,” said Kimberly Hernandez with Kern County Health Services. “Between 2016 and 2020, which is the most recent data we have available, that difference is now down to 13%.”