Dr. Ala Sanford was infuriated. She and her colleagues were inundated with calls from Black people who couldn’t get COVID-19 tests – or even rides to drive-through testing sites. 

Meanwhile, our COVID-19 death toll kept rising.

She and some other Black doctors had some COVID-19 tests. Fed up with the racist health system neglecting our people, they knew they had to put their resources together to help Black people affected by the pandemic! 

What they did could change the game for their communities.

They came by car and on foot, lining up, sometimes for hours to get tested for COVID-19.
Stacey Baldwin was one of the more than 100 people who were tested at Pinn Memorial Baptist Church in Wynnefield before noon on Wednesday. She said she had a bad cough, “but other than that, praise God.”
Dozens sat in their cars, practicing social distancing as they waited their turn. Some reported symptoms, others just exposure. 

She talked to people early in the pandemic’s rise who were under the impression African Americans were resistant to COVID-19, and she published a video trying to dispel the myth. And she kept getting calls from family, friends, and friends of friends who were worried they had the virus but couldn’t get tested. Sometimes they didn’t have referrals or their doctors didn’t have tests. Some had a referral, but their only option was a drive-through testing site and they didn’t have a car.

That’s where the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium came in.

The group is a newly-formed arm of Stanford’s firm, an affiliation that includes a number of doctors and churches in Philadelphia’s Black neighborhoods.

Stanford had some testing kits on hand, as did several of her colleagues in the medical field, and so, she said, “We put our supplies together and we went out to the community.”

Dr. Ala Stanford, a pediatric surgeon, holds COVID-19 testing materials outside the mobile testing site of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Dr. Saanford and colleagues formed the Black Doctor COVID-19 Consortium and purchased a van to make house calls. They set up a fund to help pay for supplies and got their medical students involved. 

Dana Heller, 3rd medical student, Dr. Pierre Chanson, Natalie Gonzalez, 4th year medical student, Dr. Renell Dupree, and Dr. Ala Stanford, are part of the Black Doctors COVID-19 consortium. They are taking mobile testing at-risk zip codes in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

All so they could go out to the communities that could not get access to lifesaving COVID-19 help, setting up testing sites at Black churches and in communities! Thankfully they didn’t stop there.

They also set up a website for people to request testing, got more Black doctors and volunteers involved, and even bought testing kits from private vendors – all to save our people from annihilation.

Stanford said she has thought a lot about why Black people in Philadelphia might come into contact with COVID-19 more often than white people, and might be less likely to get tested. She said part of the problem is probably access to health insurance. But an even bigger part could simply be that a big portion of Philadelphia’s working class population is Black.

“We are many of the forward-facing employees,” she said. “We’re driving the buses, we’re driving … the subways and the trains. We are the post office workers, we are in the grocery stores, we’re ringing people up at the pharmacies.”

GoFundMe the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium set up has raised more than $2,200 of its $50,000 goal as of Thursday night. Stanford said Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Einstein Medical Center and the city health department have also expressed interest in partnering with the group.

She welcomes it — but she plans to keep doing independent tests in the meantime.

“It takes time with systems and bureaucracy,” she said. “I just couldn’t stand watching it on the news every day and not doing anything.”

When the system won’t take care of our people, we can come together for our survival! Together, there is nothing we cannot conquer – even a racist system intent on letting our people perish from a terrifying pandemic.

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