Over the last 18 months, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium rose to health-care stardom as a go-to provider for coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution in Philadelphia’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.
But what started as a mobile grassroots effort to help the underserved weather the pandemic has evolved into a brick-and-mortar primary care clinic aimed at improving health outcomes far beyond the virus.
The Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity — named after the consortium’s director — will open its doors next week, providing a one-stop shop for preventive care, behavioral health, and social services in North Philadelphia.
The 10,000-square foot clinic sits in a wing of the Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Swampoodle, where the consortium made a home base for testing and vaccinations.
“When folks come out of church … they’re going to come here,” Stanford said, at a ribbon-cutting Wednesday. “When the people from the project homes across the street need somewhere to go, they’re going to be able to walk here and get expert care, the same as if they had to travel [on] several buses.”
With eight exam rooms and other suites for social and behavioral services, the clinic will offer health care to the insured and uninsured on a sliding-scale payment system. Core services will include blood work, checkups for children and adults, mental-health screenings, plus an array of immunizations from flu shots to coronavirus vaccinations.
Renovating the clinic took just over a month, but work remains. Within six months, the consortium plans to outfit the facility with a radiology suite that can provide regular mammograms and X-rays.
The goal, Stanford said, is preventing problems before they happen.
The high rate of coronavirus cases among Black Philadelphians echoed other disparities in the health system that have existed long before the pandemic, she said. According to the National Cancer Institute, Black Americans are more likely to die of breast cancer and prostate cancer than their white counterparts, a disparity that has been linked to insurance status, income, and race.
“We want to get folks with early detection,” Stanford said, a pediatric surgeon who lives in Montgomery County.
And the consortium is positioned to improve those outcomes, she added, leveraging the trust they gained through consistent testing and vaccinations in those communities.
“No one had to trust us because I was Black and the name was Black,” Stanford said. “We had to earn that trust … by being present every single day. When there was a snowstorm and everyone shut down, we were open. When there was a hurricane, we were open.”
Kamau Stanford, the consortium’s chief operating officer who is also Ala Stanford’s brother, said renovations and start-up costs ran about $2 million. The team will include a fleet of more than a dozen doctors, nurses, and behavioral health specialists, and eventually radiologists and other specialists.
Initial funding came through a mix of private and corporate donations, though clinic leaders hope to secure city, state, and federal funding going forward. Several City Council members and U.S. Rep Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) flanked Stanford at the ribbon-cutting.
Stanford said she plans to personally perform pediatric screenings on site, but notably, the clinic will be functional without her presence on a day-to-day basis. Stanford said she is in the running to become Philadelphia’s health commissioner, more than five months after the abrupt resignation of Thomas Farley.
She said she will remain involved — and the clinic’s place is permanent.
As Stanford unveiled the clinic bearing her name, she noted that children are used to seeing major institutions named after white civic leaders like Sidney J. Kimmel and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest. “As long as I have breath in my body,” said Stanford, “this is what we will do and this is how we will serve the community.”
Outside, landscaper Thomas Howard, 60, noted the bed of foliage that he planted at Stanford’s request — tiny spruce trees, bright lilies, and other perennials that will hopefully grow for years to come.
“We’re going to be here for a while,” Howard said.