Not all of the news in this COVID-19 area is bad. Dr. Ala Stanford and her staff have made sure of that.
Thanks to Dr. Stanford, coronavirus testing is more equitable for the underserved, especially in her home city of Philadelphia.
Pediatric Surgeon Called to Duty
Dr. Ala Stanford is a pediatric surgeon with a private practice. When quarantine began in March and her normal surgeries and procedures were cancelled, Stanford found herself at home, watching TV, shocked by the news headlines she saw.
“It just hit me like, what is going on?” she said of the media reports indicating that Black people were contracting the coronavirus and dying at greater rates than other demographics. At the same time, some of Stanford’s friends had trouble accessing testing facilities or were even turned away for not having a physician on record.
“All these reasons in my mind were barriers and excuses,” she said. “And in essence I decided in that moment we were going to test the city of Philadelphia.”
The Coronavirus and Testing in Philadelphia
The data is clear: African Americans living in Philadelphia have contracted the coronavirus at a rate nearly twice that of their white peers. They are also more likely to endure serious cases of the virus. Though African Americans make up 44% of Philadelphia residents, they accounted for 55% of people hospitalized with the coronavirus.
Since Black Philadelphians are also more likely to work outside of the home for jobs that can’t be performed in quarantine, they’re at greater risk of exposure throughout the day. This includes city jails, sanitation centers, and transportation departments.
Jumping to Action to Support Testing
Stanford refused to allow her local African American community to suffer from the effects of the pandemic without at least attempting to make testing more equitable. She recruited volunteers from doctors, nurses, and medical students in her network, got testing kits from LabCorp, and used her own personal savings and GoFundMe donations to provide free tests to Philadelphians.
With nothing more than a rented minivan, a popup tent, and a group of dedicated helpers, Stanford managed to test more than 350 people a day. In early spring, her group Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium was born.
When LabCorp asked Stanford how she’d pay for the tests of uninsured patients, her answer left no room for misinterpretation.
“I said, for every person that does not have insurance, you’re gonna bill me, and I’m gonna figure out how to pay for it later,” says Stanford. “But I can’t have someone die for a test that costs $200.”
Stanford’s perseverance and sacrifice hasn’t gone unnoticed. Philadelphia city leaders recently donated about $1 million in funding to the group, and the regional transportation authority even hired Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to test its frontline transit workers on a weekly basis.
To date, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium has tested more than 10,000 Philadelphians — and Stanford is the “doctor on record” for each of them.