ANNAPOLIS – Fifteen years of work in emergency rooms revealed a world of social problems to Dr. Dan K. Morhaim.
And so, taking a break from medicine, the Baltimore County freshman brought his physician’s perspective to the Maryland House of Delegates.
“Emergency medicine IS social problems,” Morhaim, a Democrat from Owings Mills, said on a recent afternoon between meetings. “Every day in the emergency room I see injuries, drug overdoses, crime victims, the elderly, beatings, suicides, teen pregnancy and a host of other problems.
“I’m aware those problems have roots in social causes beyond the surface symptoms. I wanted to deal in a different way with the root causes.”
Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil, said he is counting on Morhaim’s medical expertise on the House Environmental Matters Committee, where much health care legislation is heard. Morhaim is one of 11 freshmen on the 22-member committee.
Morhaim is “cautious and knowledgeable. He seems to be open minded – qualities that I look for,” Guns said.
The half-dozen bills that Morhaim has sponsored address issues he believes are intertwined – health care, crime and substance abuse.
His work at Baltimore’s Franklin Square Hospital sparked a bill creating a pilot drug treatment program to get more addicts more quickly into rehabilitation. The idea, Morhaim explained, is prevention – helping substance abusers stay away from crime.
Morhaim withdrew the bill at the request of Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials, who he said wanted more time to work on it. “Although the problems are urgent…I thought it was a reasonable request,” he explained. “We can get a better bill by working together.”
Morhaim said his parents instilled his “community work ethic” while he was growing up in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1970, and paid his way through New York Medical College by delivering mail and flipping burgers.
At 46, he is president of a medical corporation practice employing over 70 people, has taught at the college level, and is a medical director for several health care companies. He has served on the Maryland Commission on Recycling and held office in the Maryland Democratic Party.
Morhaim’s wife, Shelley Cole Morhaim, believes his desire to delve into politics grew from their anti-nuclear war activism in the early 1980s.
Her husband agreed. “We were worried about the environment and our childrens’ future,” he said. “At the time the world was closer to nuclear brink.”
The Morhaims also became involved in the Baltimore area Jewish community and grassroots recycling organizations. Dr. Mark Frydenborg, a co-worker for 14 years, praised Morhaim’s environmental conscience.
“Dan took initiative in getting recycling started at Franklin Square. He took active interest when the hospital was involved in upgrading its incinerator…making sure is was right for the community, not just the hospital,” Frydenborg said.
Morhaim’s philosophy is to balance economic development with preservation of the environment. “We must redevelop where infrastructure already exists, then make it attractive and affordable,” he said.
That comes into play in District 11, which stretches from suburban Baltimore to the pastures of Carroll County. The district’s diversity makes land-use a big issue, Morhaim said.
It also makes for tough campaigning. Morhaim ran in an initial field of eight. In surviving the primary, he unseated incumbents Theodore Levin and Richard Rynd. In the general election, Morhaim and two fellow Democrats, Delegates Michael Finifter and Robert Frank, narrowly beat the Republicans.
“It was a rough race,” said Sharon Bloom, Morhaim’s campaign manager and now his legislative aide. “He’d work a shift at the hospital, come home, shower, eat and go out knocking on doors.”
Morhaim got considerable campaign support from organized medical groups and other doctors. Of the $95,706 he raised, almost $7,700 came from such political action committees as the Maryland Medical PAC and the Baltimore County Physicians PAC, according to elections board records.
Dr. Kathryn Yamamoto, who took over Morhaim’s emergency medicine chairmanship at Franklin Square, said Morhaim is well respected by his peers.
“Dan’s an intense fellow….It’s like working with a tornado who won’t hurt you. No one can keep up with Dan. He’s a solid, solid, solid player.”
Yamamoto added that Morhaim “still has time to be a real family man. He spends a lot of time with his daughters.”
The delegate’s desk in his new Annapolis office overflows with papers and photos of his wife and their three daughters, Emily, 16, Sarah, 13, and Elizabeth, 10.
He relishes the stacks of reading he gets each day, and the opportunity to meet people from across Maryland. But he acknowledges that politics is stressful for his family. Whether he continues in public life, he said, will depend on “if I make a contribution, and I have positive experience.”
For now, Morhaim said, “I’m humbled by the experience of being here, and being part of it.” -30-