We are weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s frustrating that so many who want to get tested for the coronavirus haven’t been.
People get turned away because their symptoms are mild or because they aren’t elderly. Others lack prescriptions. Some don’t know where to go or don’t have a car for drive-up options.
Enter Ala Stanford, a board-certified surgeon and founder of R.E.A.L. Concierge Medicine Co. She’s putting larger health-care institutions to shame with her approach, because she’s taking coronavirus testing to the streets — literally.
On Thursday, Stanford got into a rented van and made house calls where she conducted on-the-spot nasal swab tests.
Then, on Saturday, she recruited a group of health-care workers, stood in the cold and rain with them outside Miller Memorial Baptist Church in North Philly, and conducted additional testing on more than 130 people.
“We had postal workers. We had grocery store people. We had health-care folks that had been around COVID-positive people, but because they were not displaying symptoms, they couldn’t get tested," Stanford told me on Sunday. “I had someone from the Department of Corrections coming over to get tested [and] someone who had just gotten out of jail.”
Thanks to Stanford, people who might not have otherwise been tested are now awaiting their results.
At a time when so many health experts are bemoaning how the virus is disproportionately impacting black people, she’s going directly to neighborhoods that have been identified as epidemiological hot zones.
It’s amazing how quickly Stanford got her operation up and running.
She’s a force of a nature.
I have so much respect and admiration for Stanford. I met her 10 years ago when she was performing a series of successful surgeries on a little Haitian girl who had been born without an anus. I’ve also acted as a mentor in a program for local children that she’s run.
After learning that African Americans make up 52% of coronavirus cases in Philadelphia, Stanford announced the creation of Black Doctors COVID19.
“I was getting so frustrated by people telling me what they were going to do, and how long it would take and why it wouldn’t work,” Stanford said. "I was just like, ‘OK, let me check my office and see what I have in the way of supplies. Let me see what my friends have in the way of supplies.’ And was like, ‘We are going to do this while they figure it out. Because I can’t sit around and wait.’”
Stanford already had some coronavirus tests in her office in Jenkintown. A fellow physician gave her some more, and she ordered an unspecified number from LabCorp.
After Saturday, her next stop was the parking lot of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in East Mount Airy on Monday.
On Wednesday, her team will be at Pinn Memorial Baptist Church in West Philly. The plan is to test people every other day in various church parking lots around the city. Testing is free, but people are asked to register in advance at realconciergemedicine.com.
Her friend and pastor, the Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Salem Baptist, assists with logistics. They teamed up previously during missionary trips to Haiti.
“For us, this is faith in action," Mitchell said. "It’s medicine in the streets.”
Luckily for residents who live in zip codes hardest hit by the coronavirus, it’s also access to testing and much-needed health-care advice that’s closer to the blocks and streets where they live.
And to think all of this happened because Stanford grabbed some coronavirus tests and got into a van driven by her husband and started hitting the streets.