January 25, 2020

A consumer watchdog group is calling for the California Medical Board to immediately suspend the license of Bakersfield OB-GYN Jason Helliwell after one of his patients died while in labor on Jan. 10.

The family of Bakersfield woman Sabrina De La Rosa, 28, said she went to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital for labor pain and died after twice being injected with fentanyl, which they say was ordered by Helliwell. Her mother Monica De La Rosa said she watched as Sabrina fell in her hospital room after receiving a second fentanyl injection and became unresponsive. Hospital staff performed CPR, Monica De La Rosa said, and Sabrina's baby boy, Jaxx, was delivered by an emergency Cesarean section in the hospital room, she said. But Sabrina De La Rosa could not be revived.

"Jaxx will never know his mother," Monica De La Rosa said. "And her three other children, they were at home waiting for her to get home."

Sabrina also left behind two daughters, ages 13 and 8, and a 7-year-old son. The four children are being cared for by their father, Monica De La Rosa said.

Helliwell has been on probation since July 2018 for negligent care and sex with patients. And in September, he was charged as part of a 31-count indictment alleging medical billing fraud.

A message left for a Bakersfield Memorial Hospital spokesperson was not immediately returned. A message left Friday evening for Helliwell was not also not immediately returned.

Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group based in Santa Monica, says the felony charges filed against Helliwell in September should have prompted action by the medical board then.

"Dr. Helliwell is a clear and present danger to patients. The lives of Bakersfield women are at risk. It is time to protect them by taking immediate action," said a letter Consumer Watchdog sent to the medical board Wednesday.

The California Medical Board is looking into the felony charges but all investigative information is confidential until the investigation is complete, said Carols Villatoro, a public information manager for the board. 

But Michele Ramos, a patient advocate with Consumer Watchdog, said the board often takes a long time to conduct investigations and isn't being aggressive enough in this case.

"Had the board done their job in terms of following their own disciplinary guidelines and at least suspended his license … Ms. De La Rosa would probably be alive today," Ramos said. "But there’s no sense of urgency."