ABOVE PHOTO: Dr. Stanford and son Langston, who is also a volunteer at Black Doctor’s Consortium, inside one of the new center’s exam rooms. (Photo credit: Moni-Rose Jones)
By Moni-Rose Jones
“I was born at Einstein, on public assistance, taking two and three buses using food stamps. I’m not any different than all of the kids and the people that we serve. I’m no different. I just knew that there was something better.” Dr. Ala Stanford
North Philadelphia native Dr. Ala Stanford has made her vision of providing equitable health care to the underserved a reality.
The Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity (ASHE) began providing primary care last week for patients ranging from newborns to seniors. It is not only a beautiful space, but staff includes top notch doctors and medical veterans.
Dr. Velma P. Scantlebury, the first Black woman transplant surgeon in the nation, now serves as the ASHE’s medical director.
In addition, some of the registered nurses on staff are members of the prestigious Black nursing sorority, Chi Eta Phi, which was founded in 1932 at Howard University.
“This is probably once in a lifetime to be able to say that we have [the] Black Doctors Consortium under the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity, which for us means that we are here in the community,” Scantlebury said.
Of course, Dr. Stanford herself will see patients.
“We must not leave. We cannot go back to what it was before COVID,” Stanford said, addressing the persistent health inequities and lack of access that Black and Brown communities have to quality care.
ASHE stays afloat with funding from city, state and federal funding, community donations and also services patients who do not have insurance, in which case, a counselor will help to see what insurance a patient is eligible for or offer services on a sliding fee scale.
The center is located at 2001 Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia, which was renamed in her honor as Dr. Ala Stanford Way due to her unprecedented work providing vaccine access to underserved communities via the Black Doctor COVID-19 Consortium she founded in 2020.
The center is on the grounds of Deliverance Evangelistic Church. After a city-wide search for churches to host the center, Senior Pastor Glen Spaulding offered a vacant space at his church that was formerly a school.
“As pastors normally do, we can give people a title,” Spaulding said. “And, my title for this woman is Philadelphia’s health evangelist Philadelphia’s health evangelist.”
Since the center had its grand opening on November 3, it has already served 100 persons, providing primary care according to the center.
The center offers vaccinations for youth and adults and is now also offering the vaccinations for children ages 5-11 that were recently approved by the CDC.
What started as the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium has now grown to serve a permanent purpose.
“When I was thinking of the name [of the consortium] 17 months ago, I purposefully created it so the COVID-19 could come out of it.”
“Yes, we tested over 25,000 people and administered over 50,000 vaccines,” Stanford said.
“But God willing, this pandemic will end. What happens to the people that have come to rely on us in our permanency here?”
ASHE was built with love. Every detail about the center is part of the vision Dr. Stanford had on what a health center should be. It is a combination of that vision and the volunteers that poured their time, love and God-given gifts into it — from the volunteers who paved the outside entrance walkway 24 hours before the center ribbon cutting last week, to the landscaping, to the art in the center.
“We dug up this whole walkway so we wouldn’t have one senior fall because of the cracks,” Stanford said.
When asked about how many patients the center can serve daily, Stanford stopped to think.
“A lot, a lot!,” she told The SUN as she beamed with pride.
Upon entering the facility, patients with appointments and walk-ins are greeted in the lobby reception area by friendly staff. They are then escorted to the facility’s Welcome Center, where there is a children’s space, claims and intake area and a social services area.
Stanford points to the back to the social services area inside of the facility’s Welcome Center.
“That’s for our folks that don’t have insurance so that we can privately talk to them,” she said. “As opposed to, so often, you hear people on blast with someone saying: ‘You don’t have your copay, you’re not getting seen today!’ Like, that kind of stuff is not going to happen [here].”
The ASHE center provides primary care for patients ranging from newborns to seniors.
Ellen Smith, knows personally about the importance of Dr. Stanford’s work as an attending physician prior to the opening of ASHE.
“She [Dr. Stanford] cared for my father up until the very day that he passed,” Smith said.
“I’m really proud for her, I’m proud for the city of Philadelphia and for the community that they get something for their neighborhood. It’s really nice,” Smith added, noting the progress of how nicely the center came together before opening day.
Stanford is clear on the impact the ASHE center will have as it focuses on the importance of preventive care.
When inquiring about colon cancer screening, a cancer that disproportionately affects African Americans, Dr. Stanford explained the process for The SUN.
“Colon cancer screening starts with an exam.
“So, it’s a physical exam. It’s your past medical history. It’s knowing what you might be having. And, the screening for colon cancer is really intense,” said Stanford. Patients at the center, which has eight exam rooms, will be seen either by a doctor, physician assistant or registered nurse during their visit. They also have phlebotomists on staff. The patient can have a physical exam and discuss the medical services they need. They can also be referred out to medical providers for their specific outpatient needs.
“We want to be able to take care of folks [with] hypertension before they have the cancer — the prostate cancer, the breast cancer, the colon cancer that’s so pervasive in our community,” Stanford said. “We want to get close with early detection. So when you find out you have it, it hasn’t riddled and spread through your body.”
Stanford highlights some of the things that differentiates ASHE from most health centers.
Each door has a scene from Philadelphia, such as the statue of voting rights activist Octavius Catto at City Hall and Philadelphia native and legendary opera singer Marian Anderson, to name a few.
“What’s different is that each area (exam room) has a consultation space,” Stanford said.
“One thing I’m really proud of is this mental health wing. Life everywhere,” Stanford added, pointing to the line of tall plants that precede the entrance to the area, noting how visual environments can impact an individual’s moods and feelings.
The wing logistics were also set up with privacy in mind. The mental health wing has three exam rooms and a waiting room.
“The beautiful thing I love about it is that you have one entry in and a different exit out so you don’t have to go through the main area,” said Stanford. “You don’t have to walk through everybody. You can have your private exit out.”
Shelah McMillan, RN, who works for the Black Doctors Consortium as the community liaison, is also the nursing supervisor at the ASHE center.
She has volunteered with the Consortium since 2020.
McMillan is proud to serve the community under the Consortium. She graduated from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. In addition to working at the ASHE center, she is also an emergency room nurse.
“I started on April 20, 2020,” McMillan said, recalling when she was asked to volunteer for the Consortium. “I jumped right in, no questions asked. Hearing about the virus. It was just like okay, ‘so where are we going to jump in?’ I’m an emergency room nurse, I run towards fires when most people wouldn’t do that.”
It is this dedication of all of the Consortium that is part of the reason they are able to provide consistent quality care.
“The same folks who are here standing with me, many of them were with me in April of 2020,” Stanford said. “In this community, and all of the Philadelphia region, people let us know that they needed more of their health care delivery.”
McMillan summed up perfectly what the Dr. Ala Stanford Health Equity Center represents:
“This health equity center stands for everything that is broken with the healthcare system and what it should stand for. While we are here to serve all it stands for every black and brown woman and man that has ever felt unheard by the one person who has taken the oath to care for them. It stands for empowerment, encouragement, motivation and inspiration of every little Black girl or boy in North Philadelphia that cannot see their way out of their current, bullet ridden trauma filled circumstance. It stands for access, action, empathy, advocacy, education, and equity. But most of all, it stands for love. When I first heard the name of the center of the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health equity immediately my mind went to “Ashe.” It is the power to make things happen. She is the power to make things happen and produce change and this has been noted in Philadelphia. There are so many depending upon it.”
The Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity (ASHE) is located at 2001 W. Lehigh Avenue (20th & Dr. Ala Stanford Way) in Philadelphia. Contact 1-844-423-2362 for more information or www.bdccares.com for walk-in hours or to schedule an appointment.