Local leaders got the chance this week to discuss the challenges facing Kern County residents with California’s first-ever surgeon general.
Nadine Burke Harris, who was sworn in to the position in February, made a stop at Memorial Hospital on Thursday as part of a statewide tour to learn about the challenges facing communities across California. The tour started in April and is expected to wrap up next month.
“It’s wonderful to have an opportunity to hear what the issues and priorities are for folks in Kern County, and also what the challenges are,” Burke Harris said in an interview with The Californian following the meeting. “I feel like coming into any new role, one of the important things is to take that time to listen before doing too many things that are prescriptive.”
Burke Harris said some of the major issues that Kern County leaders brought up at the meeting included a shortage of health care providers and other types of providers, as well as the impact immigration has had on local families.
“There was a question of how to support a pipeline of professionals in Kern County, and not just health care providers but across the board,” she said.
Burke Harris said on the issue of immigration, the group discussed the complexities of serving undocumented immigrants and their families.
“We talked about how difficult it can be to support the health and well-being of immigrant families when the specter of discrimination and deportation is being faced by so many.”
Other concerns that were brought up at the meeting included the county’s poor air quality, toxic stress and addressing racism and discrimination in health care and education.
“There are a lot of challenges, but everyone in that room is working really hard to support (residents), improve their health and well-being, provide educational opportunities or just improving the day-to-day lives of families,” she said.
So far, Burke Harris said she has enjoyed doing the tour and getting to visit places she hasn’t been before, including Bakersfield.
“It’s been my favorite part of the job so far, to take a walk in other folks’ shoes for a little bit,” she said.
After the tour is done, Burke Harris said she hopes to discuss what she has learned with her colleagues at the state Capitol and develop strategies to help address some of the issues that were brought up.
“One of things where I see the office ... can be of help is to connect folks with strong, evidence-based approaches or interventions, so they have as many resources as possible to support them,” she said.
In the meantime, Burke Harris said she hopes local leaders will continue to work with each other and support each other to come up with new ways to address the health and education challenges facing Kern County.
“We have so many opportunities for folks to work together and work across systems to get better outcomes for our families,” she said.