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Jefferson Doctor Leads Health Effort for Underserved

Ala Stanford, MD, is taking COVID-19 testing to the city’s streets

When COVID-19 began tearing through Philadelphia, Ala Stanford, MD, knew it would have a greater impact on the Black community. So Stanford, a Jefferson Health – Abington pediatric surgeon, decided to do something about it.

In April, Stanford used her own funds to purchase equipment to create the first mobile testing program in the city. She rented a van, loaded it with supplies, and invited healthcare professionals and medical students to join her in hosting free testing events at community centers, churches, parking lots, and on the streets of Philadelphia.

The effort, called the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium (BDCC), brings testing to the hardest hit areas of Philadelphia—areas where people do not have access to the resource in a traditional healthcare setting. So far the BDCC has tested thousands across the city, and continues its mission to bring the service to those who need it.

Stanford’s efforts have gained her a spot on Philadelphia Magazine’s prestigious “76 Most Influential People in Philadelphia” list. It has also brought attention to the health disparities experienced by underserved communities in the city.

As COVID-19 began to take hold across the country in the spring, Stanford noted that data showed Black people in Pennsylvania were contracting—and dying from—the coronavirus at higher rates than almost any other demographic group. In fact, those living in counties with a mostly Black population were being infected at three times the rate, and dying at almost six times the rate, of people living in mostly white counties.

The risk factors contributing to those statistics include pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes; people working in front-line and essential jobs; and a history of barriers to care in Black communities.

Stanford, who grew up in North Philadelphia, now receives funding for BDCC from various places, including the city of Philadelphia, corporations, foundations, and a GoFundMe page. However, continued support is crucial, as the need for testing and related services is ongoing.

Donated funds are used to cover testing supplies, van transportation, personal protective equipment (PPE) for volunteers, and educational materials for the public. The goal is to continue to provide barrier-free testing for COVID-19 where it is needed, as well as to educate the community on the virus.