Community Health Is in Dr. Judith Baker’s Blood

The longtime health administrator says she’s proud of the work she has done with colleagues to ensure all people with blood and bleeding disorders have access to quality care.
Author: Judith Baker, DrPH, MHSA, as told to Leslie Pepper

I came of age in the 1970s, when there was an explosion in the women’s health movement. I got involved in a lot of advocacy specific to women’s health, and I’m fascinated by why certain things are so hard to discover. Why do some environmental exposures affect us? How do we stop them? How can patients and allies work together to find solutions and develop them to resolve health problems?

I earned my master’s in public health in 1983 and worked for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, where I directed research investigating the health outcomes of children born at different birth weights. When I moved to California in 1990, I learned about a job as a regional administrator for the Western States/Region IX Hemophilia Treatment Center Network. It was just the right fit. It focused on issues I felt passionate about, like women’s health issues, as well as HIV, which was hitting the hemophilia community hard. I would be working on multi-institutional federal grants and contracts.

I’ve worked on many projects I’m proud of, but the one that stands out is helping hemophilia treatment centers (HTCs) grow and sustain themselves financially so they can be there for patients and families.

Most of the HTCs were established in big cities. But wherever you live in this country, you should have access to the best expertise in diagnosing and treating hemophilia, von Willebrand disease, and other rare genetic bleeding and clotting disorders. One of the benefits of regionalization is that we can show patients with blood disorders that although their disorder may be rare, they’re not alone.

Part of my job included identifying and developing local expertise in underserved areas. This spoke to my concerns about equity and questions about why some populations have better health than others and what can we do to solve that. I discovered that there were no HTCs in Nevada, Hawaii, or Guam, so the people there were vastly underserved. Research has shown that when men with hemophilia have access to an HTC and obtain their care there, they’re less likely to die. They have fewer emergency room visits, fewer hospitalizations, and lower medical bills. So, I helped in the development of the first HTCs in those three areas.

As I retire, my hopes for the blood disorders community are for continued collaboration, to find the best solutions to whatever problems we’re facing, and to really listen to one another and intentionally reach across the disciplines — including patients, researchers, physicians, nurses, social workers, physical therapists, pharmacists, and administrators — so we include everyone’s expertise and don’t leave anyone’s voice out.