Philly ER doctor Kevin Baumlin declares candidacy for U.S. Senate as a Democrat

  • Katie Meyer/WHYY

(Philadelphia) – A Philadelphia doctor is jumping into the already-crowded and quickly-growing Democratic primary race for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat, which will be open in 2022.

Kevin Baumlin, 56, chairs the department of emergency medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital. He’s been an emergency room doctor for 30 years, but says when the coronavirus pandemic hit, he felt a “call to action.”

His patients, he said, were dying at rates he’d never seen before.

“What we see are the impact of the failed policies of Washington, policies that just don’t work to tackle gun violence and the opiate crisis and hunger and immigration,” he said. “I know we can do better.”

Though he hasn’t dabbled in politics before, Baumlin says he believes the skills he has developed while leading teams of doctors and helping patients navigate the American health care system are relevant to lots of other issues.

He names education, fair pay, and equal access to services as key ones.

“When you work in a large, complex bureaucracy and you solve problems, that’s very transferable to how politicians and leaders work,” he said. “I’m always advocating for more resources to care for my patients, for vaccines for patients in the [emergency department] and urgent care because they’re vulnerable … I spent hours on that this week.”

Baumlin, who lives in Fitler Square with his husband and their dog, joins the race as likely the least familiar name to most Pennsylvanians.

The other Democrats who have filed for the Senate seat are John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s current lieutenant governor and former mayor of Braddock, Malcolm Kenyatta, a state representative from North Philadelphia, and Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, who chairs the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and, like Baumlin, has a medical background — she is an anesthesiologist.

Philadelphia State Sen. Sharif Street has also filed to run and plans to formally launch an exploratory committee Friday. More candidates are expected to join the race.

On the Republican side of the aisle, Montgomery County real estate developer, GOP fundraiser, and unsuccessful lieutenant governor candidate Jeff Bartos has officially joined the race. Several other candidates are expected to join him, including former Chester County GOP Congressman Ryan Costello.

Baumlin is a prolific writer in Philadelphia publications, sharing his thoughts on the ways better economic opportunities might prevent gun violence, how virtual school is inadequate for students with special needs like dyslexia (a condition he has), and how he has seen COVID-19 exacerbate opioid use.

He also founded a nonprofit the OAK Street Initiative, which gathers experts in various fields to think and write about high-profile issues, and shares their work in articles and forums.

But he said there was one particular moment when he decided he wanted to move from involved citizen to potential elected official. It was during the pandemic, when he was treating a friendly older man who was, Baumlin said, like the “mayor” of the city block he lived on.

The man had appeared to be recovering from COVID-19, walking unassisted and corresponding with his grandkids. Then, like many COVID patients, he quickly declined and died.

“It changed me. It really did. It made me make the decision” to run, he said. “I think Washington needs people who care for people, who care about inequities, who’ve worked through the pandemic on the front line, who listen.”

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