Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, has withdrawn her name from consideration to be commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
In an interview Sunday, Stanford cited the need to help oversee the consortium’s new health center, which bears her name. It’s a 10,000-square-foot facility that opens in North Philadelphia this week. She said that if she were to serve as commissioner, it could be perceived as a conflict of interest when the clinic seeks funds and other support from the state and federal governments.
“My focus is that this center be here forever,” she said.
She pledged to support whoever is chosen for the commissioner’s job, stressing that the person will share the goal of promoting public health for city residents, especially the most vulnerable.
Stanford has won national acclaim through the consortium, which she founded 18 months ago to provide COVID-19 tests, and eventually vaccines, in underserved neighborhoods — serving tens of thousands of Philadelphians since the start of the pandemic. On Friday, CNN named her one of its top 10 “Heroes of 2021.”
Former city health commissioner Thomas Farley resigned in May after admitting that he had arranged for the disposal of remains from victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing. The bone fragments were later discovered in storage, but the controversy eroded trust among many in the city’s Black community.
Among those calling for Stanford to head the department was City Councilmember Cindy Bass, who said the physician’s medical expertise and outreach skills made her the ideal person to rebuild that trust.
Cheryl Bettigole has served as acting commissioner since Farley’s departure.
Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for the city and Mayor Jim Kenney, said Sunday that a “national search process is still underway to fill this vital position. ... We do not have details about the timing of an announcement.”
While declining to discuss any individual candidate, Lessard said the Kenney administration has “long respected” the work of Stanford and the consortium. “We look forward to continuing to partner and support their efforts,” he said.
The consortium’s new health clinic is called the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity. It features eight exam rooms and other suites for social and behavioral services, located in a wing of Deliverance Evangelistic Church, at 2001 W. Lehigh Ave. in Swampoodle. In the coming months, organizers plan to add a radiology suite with equipment for mammograms and X-rays.
A surgeon who lives in Montgomery County, Stanford said she had been tempted to seek the job of city health commissioner because it would help her to improve health outcomes in underserved groups. But she was concerned that the role would detract from her responsibilities at the fledgling clinic, which has the same goal.
“The title helps, but the impacts of your words and actions are greater,” she said. “We’re all working toward the same goal.”
Her primary focus, she said, is to ensure that the clinic lasts long after she is gone.
Staff columnist Jenice Armstrong contributed to this article.