Health Tech

Inside One Philadelphia Doctor’s DIY Method to Tackle Health Inequity

Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors Covid-19 Consortium, provided hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 tests and vaccines to Black and Brown people in Philadelphia’s underserved neighborhoods during the pandemic. In her view, her work was impactful because she acted promptly and focused on community-based patient engagement.

Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors Covid-19 Consortium, said she has saved more lives in a parking lot than she ever saved as a surgeon in the operating room.

She made this statement during a fireside chat held last week at MedCity NewsINVEST conference in Chicago.

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Dr. Stanford’s organization was born out of the Covid-19 crisis. While working as a pediatric surgeon, Dr. Stanford realized early on in the pandemic that not only were Black and Brown people dying of Covid-19 at higher rates than other people, but these populations also faced the most barriers when it came to obtaining tests and vaccines. This was true in her hometown of Philadelphia, as well as major cities across the country.

To address this inequity, Dr. Stanford knew she had to take a “do-it-yourself” approach.

“When I was 20 years old, I was sitting in medical school having a pit-in-my-stomach feeling about how horrible it is that people who look like me where I grew up had a shorter life expectancy and no healthcare access. As a 20 year-old, I thought ‘I’m going to change this.’ Fast forward 20 years later, and I’m feeling that same pit, but I thought ‘Wait a minute. I’m more experienced. I have my own practice. I have access to Covid tests. I have an account with LabCorp and Quest and all the people who are running the tests, and I don’t have to ask anybody for permission,” she explained.

Equipped with the personal protective equipment from her surgical office, she began making house calls and providing Covid-19 tests to Philadelphia residents in ZIP codes that were hit the hardest — all at no cost to the patient.

Dr. Stanford wanted to save lives, so she said she couldn’t sit around and “wait for people to donate and invest or decide it was a priority.” By taking matters into her own hands, Dr. Stanford and her team were able to provide hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 tests and vaccines, many of which were given in a parking lot.

In her view, her work was impactful because she maintained a focus on proactive care and patient engagement.

“I don’t want people to think that people trusted me because I was Black. It was not that — that was part of it, but it was because we kept going to them. And when there’s an emergency or crisis, you go to people. You don’t sit in your ivory tower and say, ‘I’m here and you can come if you want.’ We went to them day after day,” Dr. Stanford declared.

Now that the public health emergency has ended, Dr. Stanford has remained steadfast in her efforts to care for the people that the traditional U.S. healthcare system often fails to reach.

After the CARES Act passed, she submitted claims to the Health Resources and Services Administration for the Covid-19 tests and vaccines she provided to uninsured individuals. Typically, providers get about $50 per test, which isn’t a large sum of money itself, but Dr. Stanford administered more than 100,000 tests. When she received the unexpected revenue for the Covid-19 tests she administered, she reinvested the funds into the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity

The center, which opened in 2021, is located in an area of Philadelphia that has the lowest life expectancy rate in the city. It offers care to local patients at no cost or on an income-based sliding scale.

Because the center is located in this underserved community, Dr. Stanford hopes it can build Black and Brown people’s trust in healthcare providers.

“We take care of those with insurance and without insurance — everyone gets the same expert care where they can walk in there. They can get there by the bus or the subway. It’s across from a high school. It’s adjacent to a church. It’s near low-income housing,” she said.

Photo: MedCity News