Telehealth is a game changer in access to healthcare, especially for mental health services. Legislation has not moved in the General Assembly on this topic due to abortion politics, specifically related to the use of Telehealth to give women access to reproductive healthcare. As the only physician in the General Assembly, I will be a strong voice to enact Telehealth legislation in PA.
This is the next post of our 2022 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth
By participating, candidates are saying that they
I first learned of Arvind Venkat’s campaign via Facebook. He’s in a new district in the northern communities of Allegheny County, adjacent to my own community. It is an interesting time, perhaps even crucial, to have medical professionals in the General Assembly, especially one who values the unique healthcare needs of the LGBTQ community. If elected, Venkat would become the only state representative of South Asian descent in the legislature.This is a newly shaped district without an incumbent. it is a swing district. I like that he speaks of expanding resources and understanding how new technologies, like telehealth, can be transformative for marginalized neighbors.
Name: Arvind Venkat
Office Held/Seeking: State House, 30th District
How do you describe your identity? I identify as a cis man and person of color.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? The district includes the communities of Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Kilbuck, Emsworth, Ohio Township, Franklin Park, McCandless, and part of Hampton. My family and I love Soergel’s Orchards both for the food and the outdoor fun.
The pandemic exacerbated a mental health crisis that we knew was already underlying in our society.
How has redistricting impacted your district? This is a new, open district in the suburbs of the North Hills – redistricting has created an opportunity for the Democratic party to pick up a seat in Allegheny County.
Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region. I believe my familiarity with the LGBTQ+ community is in my service as an ER doc. In my profession where I have cared for everyone, no questions asked, I have had the privilege of being the source of healthcare for many members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially those who are most vulnerable and have no other source of healthcare.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the General Assembly? How will you respond to those priorities? My key priorities if elected are on making health care more accessible and affordable by reducing deductibles and copayments so health insurance works for all, expanding resources for Medicaid to allow the elderly to age in place at home, and gaining resources EMS and acute care settings on which we all depend in times of crisis. The conversation of increased access to healthcare must include the LGBTQ community who are too often denied their rights in that space.
The threats of ‘religious liberty’ laws and exemptions target both LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. Pennsylvania has no law protecting marriage equality, second-parent adoption, nondiscrimination, or similar important rights. If SCOTUS overturns or waters down Roe v Wade and the ‘penumbra of privacy’ protecting us, what do you anticipate happening in Pennsylvania? The news this week of the impending overturning of Roe v Wade is unnerving. As an ER doc, I have delivered babies and told women they have lost their pregnancies. I have also treated a woman who had a back-alley abortion and nearly died. I will never forget her suffering. If elected, I will vote to protect reproductive health & liberty for all PA women. Our best hope of preventing the worst case scenarios is to ensure a Democratic majority is elected in the State House and that Josh Shapiro is elected Governor.
I don’t think Harrisburg has the will to move forward on Infrastructure funding. Convince me otherwise. The GOP in Harrisburg are currently sitting on millions of dollars set aside in the American Rescue Plan, but they refuse to spend it. I don’t believe infrastructure has to be a partisan issue. The pandemic showed us that our communities need that money now. I want to advocate for more resources for our vital public services that clearly were not prepared to help all of us when the pandemic hit and for increased infrastructure investment in the communities of my district.
While the City of Pittsburgh is not in your district, we recently experienced a mass shooting involving mostly BIPOC youth, including two 17 year old young men who both died that night. This is not a one policy resolution situation, no matter how much people want to reduce the events that unfolded that terrible night. It isn’t just about bad kids or bad neighborhoods or negligent parenting or parties or even just about police response and gun control. How would the policies on your agenda address issues that put all of these young people in such a traumatic and harmful situation? Note that youth at the party came from multiple communities in the region, so it is definitely not a “Pittsburgh only” scenario. The pandemic exacerbated a mental health crisis that we knew was already underlying in our society. We’re also seeing the beginnings of an increase in crime as a result. We have to get serious about mental health care in our society and treat gun violence as the public health crisis that it is. As a doctor, I will look for evidence-based solutions to this problem. I will advocate for more resources for mental health services and legislation to address gun violence by bolstering background checks and enacting extreme risk protection orders with rigorous due process protections.
Trans youth, indeed all LGBTQ youth, are under assault in our Commonwealth and even in your l)district. Programs have closed in the wake of the pandemic. Schools struggle with bullying and book bans. Five young BIPOC trans folx were murdered in the region over the past year. Affordable housing is dear, discrimination is everywhere. But the General Assembly is prioritizing the non-issue of trans girls playing soccer as the real threat. What are you going to do about that? I’m dedicated to supporting our LGBTQ youth through funding programs and anti-discrimination legislation that give them the ability to live their lives in a health way, including fair housing protections.
Your website mentions supporting public servants, including first responders. Most of the authority to reform policing power lies with the General Assembly. What specific efforts would you support or propose in the PA House to reform policing? I believe it is a false choice to say we need to reduce funding to the police to reform the police. As an ER doc, I work with police every day, and see their strengths and weaknesses. My goal as a legislator would be to pair greater accountability and transparency in policing with appropriate resourcing of the same.
I was appalled during the pandemic to learn there was no regulation of the health insurance industry to create a level playing field. My insurer waived co-pays for all telehealth visits for nearly two years, a powerful incentive for me to take full advantage of telemedicine. But that wasn’t true for everyone, especially with teletherapy and for those with publicly funded insurances. The most vulnerable were forced back into traditional healthcare rituals by insurance companies, not by choice. How could the State government respond to these punitive disparities in regulation? It’s a menace to public health to take telehealth off the table based on cost rather than effectiveness. Telehealth is a game changer in access to healthcare, especially for mental health services. Legislation has not moved in the General Assembly on this topic due to abortion politics, specifically related to the use of Telehealth to give women access to reproductive healthcare. As the only physician in the General Assembly, I will be a strong voice to enact Telehealth legislation in PA.
There’s a clear need to actively create space for women, especially Black women and other women of color, in elected office AND on campaign and legislative staffs. These are issues of representation and realities. Tell us about your teams. My Campaign Chair is Kim Zachary, a woman, and my Campaign Vice Chair is Uday Palled, a man of color. My campaign manager is Ben Forstate, and my campaign consultant is Carver Murphy. My mail firm is led by Fiona Conroy (Deliver Strategies).
Voter turnout is a significant concern, especially for municipal/local elections. What advice would you offer to organizations and groups concerned with turnout in Western Pennsylvania? Our campaign is putting a robust plan together to ensure our voters vote in this upcoming election. We can listen and energize voters around the issues that matter to them.
How can supporters get involved with campaigns while practicing social distancing and other protocols? We’ll have remote phone banking options for voter contact as well as practice COVID safe doorknocking. My campaign staff have experience running field operations during the pandemic and will continue to monitor the case counts as we operate through the campaign.
Tell us about your endorsements.
Finally, what are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
The conversation of increased access to healthcare must include the LGBTQ community who are too often denied their rights in that space.
Please list your social media accounts and your donation links.
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here. Responses from this election cycle are listed below in the order they were returned by the campaign.