Although two-thirds of Philadelphians have received their first COVID-19 dose, others are slow-poking about being vaccinated for a wide variety of reasons, including historic mistrust in the health-care system.
The challenge is to figure out ways to convince them to get vaccinated.
So, I’m going to point out what a lot of folks are saying privately: Mayor Jim Kenney needs to hire Ala Stanford to be the city’s next public health commissioner.
A board-certified adult and pediatric surgeon as well as the founder of R.E.A.L. Concierge Medicine, Stanford is, hands down, the best person to replace Thomas Farley, who resigned last month following controversy over the treatment of MOVE remains. The mayor should have fired him earlier this year following the Philly Fighting COVID fiasco, when a 22-year-old grad student essentially was hired to run the city’s vaccine operation, but I digress.
Stanford, who grew up in North Philadelphia and Germantown, is the most trusted person in the city when it comes to COVID-19 and is eminently prepared to help lead us out of the pandemic. Hers is the most recognizable face on our front line and has been from pretty much the start. Philadelphia needs a doctor everyone can trust to help lead us out of this and the next crisis after that.
After learning how African Americans had been disproportionately impacted by the disease, Stanford founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium in April 2020 and took to the streets days later, going to patients’ houses in a rented van driven by her husband to ensure that those in underserved neighborhoods got tested for the coronavirus.
During a time when certain neighborhoods were being overlooked by mainstream health-care providers, Stanford took it upon herself to set up mobile testing sites in epidemiological hot zones. She easily could have remained in her pleasant offices in Jenkintown and tended to high-profile patients, such as actor Will Smith and wealthy business executives and athletes. Instead, Stanford donned personal protective equipment and positioned herself on street corners and in church parking lots in all kinds of weather to administer nasal swab tests.
At the time, many people were getting turned away from other testing sites because their symptoms were considered mild or because they weren’t elderly. Some lacked prescriptions or didn’t have a car for drive-up options. Initially, it was a shoestring operation that received no government funding.
Since then, the consortium estimates that it has tested around 25,000 people and vaccinated 49,000.
Its next vaccination clinic will be Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Deliverance Evangelistic Church at 2001 W. Lehigh St. Uber is providing free round-trip transportation with the code 10MVBDC.
According to the consortium, even Rachel Levine, the former Pennsylvania health secretary now serving as assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has hailed its efforts as “really a model for the type of work that we want to do throughout the country.”
I’ve seen a whole lot during my reporting days in Philadelphia. But I’ve never seen anyone step up the way Stanford has in a challenge as great as this.
I met her years ago, when she was a pediatric surgeon at Abington Memorial Hospital and about to operate on a little Haitian girl who had been born without an anus.
There were times when the city was in the height of the pandemic that I wondered whether she ever even slept. She was that busy, arranging clinics, counseling patients, looking for supplies, doing media interviews and saving who knows how many lives.
At a teen vaccination clinic last month, she jumped rope and line-danced with kids. Music blared as people milled about. Stanford somehow managed to make it look as if getting a COVID shot were fun.
Even though she had antibodies already in her system from having COVID-19 last summer, Stanford allowed herself to be vaccinated in December to help allay residents’ concerns. I know people who were initially reluctant but agreed to be inoculated at one of her sites because of the faith and trust they have in her.
Stanford hasn’t publicly lobbied for the health commissioner job, or even said she would accept it. But last month, City Councilmember Cindy Bass sent Kenney a letter recommending Stanford for the post.
“For decades, we have been aware of racial disparities in health outcomes, but the needle has not moved in Philadelphia on addressing them,” she wrote. “Dr. Stanford is well-trusted and well-regarded, especially by our Black communities, which is vital to push our city in the right direction.”
Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble said Friday that the job description is being finalized and that the city was in negotiations with an executive search firm.
Here’s hoping that the city residency requirement can be waived and that Stanford gets offered the job of being Philly’s next public health commissioner.