Vivian Cao’s journey from advocacy to action in Kern County

May 29, 2024 /

Editor’s Note: To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Kern Sol News is highlighting notable AAPI leaders in Kern County who are working to create positive change in their community.

Born and raised in Orange County, Vivian Cao has a rich history of serving the Vietnamese American community. Cao recently became the inaugural president of the newly established Asian Chamber of Commerce. 

In her new role, Cao’s priority is to recognize the investments and contributions the Asian community has had in Kern County in terms of growth. “There was no kind of ability to provide a platform for all the different organizations to unify,” said Cao.

Upon moving to Kern County, Cao said she noticed a distinct lack of such interconnectedness. While there were indeed pockets of engaged and enthusiastic community members, these groups often operated in isolation. Recognizing this fragmentation, she saw an opportunity to bridge these gaps and create a more cohesive and empowered community.

A job opportunity with Senator Grove’s office brought Cao to Bakersfield in 2021, and in 2023 she joined Adventist Health as their Manager of Philanthropy Operations when the hospital reached out asking if she’d be interested in joining their team to elevate healthcare in the Central Valley due to her experience with policy advocacy throughout the state and because she understood the difference between Southern California’s healthcare priorities and accessibility versus the Central Valley’s capabilities.

Cao’s fluency in Vietnamese and understanding of the community’s unique needs positioned her as a vital bridge between the community and broader societal structures. 

“We have a different set of struggles that people with the ability to influence don’t give full consideration and/or it’s so much harder to push the needle,” Cao said. “By that, I mean Kern County, the equipment that we have is good. The talent that we have is growing. But at the end of the day, if I were a newly graduated physician finishing residency, would I move to the Central Valley? Maybe with the right incentives.” 

One of the key challenges Cao highlighted is the lack of specialty care compared to more established medical hubs like Southern California. Despite the presence of world-class facilities such as the AIS Cancer Center at Adventist Health, many residents still opt to seek medical care outside of Kern County, drawn by the reputation and perceived standards of care offered by institutions in larger metropolitan areas.

Vivian Cao’s dedication to advocating for her community was unwavering when she was asked what she would do to help her community if she had a magic wand. With this wand, she said she would do whatever she could to get policy influencers at the state and federal levels to see the true value of Kern County. 

“There’s so much stuff happening in Sacramento that doesn’t acknowledge the value of Kern County which feeds, fuels, and defends the nation,” Cao commented. “If we can get the policymakers to understand the value of Kern County, then I feel like our communities wouldn’t struggle as hard.”