Amid the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium’s push to get vaccines into Philadelphia’s hardest-hit neighborhoods this year, founder Ala Stanford noticed something: Patients weren’t just coming to her clinics for vaccines.
“People started using us as their doctor,” the general and pediatric surgeon said in an interview Wednesday. “They were coming to us with pill bottles, pointing to a lump and saying, ‘What do you think this is?’ Or, ‘Someone thinks I should have surgery -- what do you think?’
“We were in the middle of testing and vaccination. But it was clear that people needed more.”
To address those needs, the consortium is opening a primary care clinic in October -- called the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity -- focusing on health disparities that were highlighted by the pandemic, but existed long before it. The clinic will operate in a 10,000-square-foot space in Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Swampoodle, which has become the consortium’s de facto headquarters for testing and vaccines.
Stanford, who founded the consortium in April 2020, says the clinic is driven by the needs of communities that have come to trust her group, amid a pandemic where Black neighborhoods saw some of the highest coronavirus case rates yet had limited access to testing and vaccines. Those inequities echo larger issues in the medical field, she noted. Insurance status, income, and race can affect a patient’s quality of care, and Black patients have shown better health outcomes when their physician shares their cultural background.
“For us, it doesn’t matter what type of insurance you have, or don’t have. You’re going to see the same people, you’re going to get the same level of expert care, and that’s what we plan to deliver for everyone who comes into the door,” Stanford said.
Besides primary care, the clinic plans to offer on-site blood work services and other tests, like X-rays and EKGs. “Because so many people work, they don’t have time to go to get an X-ray at a different location, or blood work done somewhere else,” Stanford said. She also plans to offer behavioral health treatment.
“We know there is a lack of services, a stigma, not just for African Americans, but for everyone, around emotional and mental health,” she said.
Stanford said she was confident the consortium can transition to providing primary care, especially after the group hosted a summer clinic that provided sports physicals for Philadelphia high school athletes. The clinic served as a kind of trial run for a permanent primary care clinic, she said -- and also got a number of students vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The health equity clinic will employ five doctors, two physician assistants, two nurse-practitioners, and several additional nurses. “In terms of numbers of patients, I can never predict,” Stanford said. “It depends on how well we get the word out and how strong the need is. But in the beginning, if we’re just doing flu shots and COVID tests and vaccines, that’s enough. It’s more than we had last year.”
She said the new clinic is driven by what she’s been hearing from patients throughout the pandemic.
“For every step of the way, it’s been, what does the community need? And that is what we do next,” she said. “This is what they were telling us while we were doing flu shots and COVID testing and vaccines. They were saying, ‘We need you, not just for this acute emergency, but we need you beyond this.’”