Beth Baker, MD, Physician Advisor at SFM
Oct. 2020 Advocacy Champion
1. Why is being an advocate so important to you?
As a physician interested in environmental and toxicology issues, I find numerous topics to advocate for on the state and national level. I hope to improve the future for our children and their children. As an occupational and environmental medicine physician, we are well positioned to provide both clinical care for workers and to guide companies on how to best deal with this pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the importance of keeping workers and workplaces safe and healthy. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how infectious diseases have no respect for international borders and how unequal access to care affect the health and livelihood/success of individuals, employers and nations.
2. What health-care related issue(s) have you advocated for over the past year?
I am currently the president of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Association, and I am involved in advocacy on their behalf. ACOEM signed the US Call to Action on Climate, Health, and Equity Policy Agenda which highlighted climate change as one of the greatest threats to health that America has ever faced and requested government, businesses, elected officials and candidates address climate change issues. This call to action asked for a rapid transition to clean, safe, and renewable energy, promotion of healthy and sustainable food systems, and assurance that everyone in the US have access to safe, affordable, and sustainable water supply. We have also done significant advocacy around COVID-19 issues. We have sent a letter to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine advocating for equitable allocation of COVID19- vaccines. We have sent letters to Tina Smith, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell about the importance of providing health and safety protection to workers and encouraging employers to follow CDC guidelines and relevant OSHA guidelines and standards. We have petitioned the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from the COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2. ACOEM also asked their members to send emails or letters to their congressman or senators asking for OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19.
3. What advice would you offer to others who are interested in advocacy?
You must keep trying. Often you will not see any progress in the beginning, but a persistent message will show that the issue is important to a serious group of their constituents who will not give up. Work with others to deliver a coordinated message. Numbers matter and show that you are a major force and not a fringe element. Build a relationship with the staff of those you are trying to sway. They have to listen to someone and if you can be helpful to them as a resource, your influence can grow. Sometimes they have a philosophical and dogmatic stance that is opposite your position that is impossible to change but they may make a political decision to not oppose it if they can trade for a vote on another matter. They are more likely to trade your position if they think it will win votes or support in the long run. If you support a position they stand for, let your representatives know that too. If at first you don’t succeed, you have to regroup and try again. It is important to listen to both sides of a story and potentially reassess your position. Sometimes you have to settle for the small partial victory when you can get it in the scope of the bigger campaign.