The CSPA Q&A: House Health Committee Chair Dan Frankel

The Allegheny County Democrat spoke with City & State ahead of the Greater Pittsburgh Healthcare Summit

Frankel speaks at a hearing on expanding reproductive health care

Frankel speaks at a hearing on expanding reproductive health care PA House Democrats

Few state politicians have served their district longer than state Rep. Dan Frankel. The Allegheny County Democrat has been in the state House since 1999, representing Pittsburgh neighborhoods including Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Greenfield, Oakland, Point Breeze and Regent Square. 

Frankel has been an outspoken advocate for civil rights and public health since getting to Harrisburg. Now, with Democrats holding a razor-thin majority in the state House, Frankel brings his expertise to the table as chair of the House Health Committee. 

City & State spoke with Frankel, the keynote speaker at City & State’s upcoming Greater Pittsburgh Healthcare Summit, about his health care policy priorities, Pittsburgh’s growing role in the sector and what to expect from the half-day summit. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What roles do you see emerging technologies playing in health care – and how can the Pittsburgh region help further develop them?

Pittsburgh is kind of the epicenter of biomedical research in the commonwealth. Pittsburgh has the public research institutions in terms of resources, it gets help from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. I think one of the goals for the University of Pittsburgh is to spin off a lot of that research and create business opportunities out of it. 

In addition to that, we have a robotics center at Carnegie Mellon University. And today, it was announced that a major new facility is going to be built in the Hazelwood Green section of the City of Pittsburgh. Robotics can play and has been a major role in health care. There’s also a great prospect for the ability for us, as a commonwealth, to be able to incentivize the research and then get it into the private sector to create jobs and keep those companies that come out of that research here in western Pennsylvania and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania … Obviously, telehealth had been really prospering and developing, then the pandemic put it on steroids. We have to make sure that we’re able to provide the technologies that enable telemedicine to be an effective way for people to be able to access health care and to reduce health care costs.

As we see hospital closures taking place, which is another issue, and doctors consolidating and having difficulty with the workforce – particularly in rural areas – telemedicine and the technologies that enable it are becoming increasingly important tools for us to be able to deliver health care, have people in areas that might need health care deserts to have access, and contain costs while improving health outcomes for people. That’s all kind of wrapped together. 

What have you heard from constituents and stakeholders in your district about the cost of care and access to care, specifically among older and vulnerable populations? 

We have a rapidly aging population; demographic trends are very challenging and we’re already existing in a challenging environment in terms of availability of care. With our aging population, I see personally my late father, who was in a long-term nursing facility dealing with Alzheimer’s, and now my mother, who is in an assisted-living facility. Looking at the challenges that these facilities have in terms of retaining and hiring the workforce, they need to be able to provide care – we see this throughout the entire health care system. It’s not just with the aging system: We see a shortage of nurses, we see a shortage of doctors, we see a critical shortage in the behavioral health sphere. 

We have a vulnerable population of disabled people in this state, as well as aging people who need care, and we have a workforce that doesn’t necessarily provide the resources to the direct-service professionals who take care of our disabled and our elderly. Many times, they’re vastly underpaid and there’s high turnover, so we have to find a way to find the resources. 

Looking ahead to the summit, what do you hope to bring to the conversation – and to get out of the panel discussions?

As chair of the House Health Committee, we seek input from stakeholders across the board all the time, and this is another opportunity to interact with those stakeholders. If you take a look at the agenda in front of the Health Committee and in front of the state of Pennsylvania, it is extraordinarily robust and challenging. We’re looking at everything from adult-use cannabis legalization, we’re trying to deal with the cost of prescription drugs, and we’re looking to modernize and update agencies that provide critical safety valves in the health care sphere …  There are a lot of challenges. It’s a very exciting area to be in.

City & State’s Greater Pittsburgh Healthcare Summit takes place July 19 at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center. For more information, including tickets, click here.