A group of local African American doctors got tired of hearing excuses when it came to finding testing for their community and decided to solve the problem themselves.
By Denise Clay
Across the country, the statistics regarding the coronavirus and its impact are consistent in one very important way: the pain it has caused the Black community.
The Black community has been hit hardest. In Philadelphia, Blacks make up 43% of the city’s more than 10,000 cases of the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health. Yet, according to a study done by epidemiologist Usama Bilal of Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, testing in majority Black communities has been hard to come by.
In the study, which focused on zip codes, more people got tested in zip code 19102– a zip code where the median income is $90,000 — than they did in zip code 19120, where the median income is $37,000. Although Blacks and Latinos make up significant percentages of the workers considered essential by the city, the restrictions placed on testing are a big part of why they may not be able to get tested. Under the city health department’s guidelines, testing is only being done on health care workers and people over 50 with pre-existing conditions that are exhibiting symptoms.
You also have to have a referral from your doctor, something that gets complicated if you don’t have a primary care doctor to do that for you. Also, state and federal guidelines prohibit walking up to a drive-thru testing site.
It was all too much for Dr. Ala Stanford, a surgeon and founder of R.E.A.L. Concierge Medicine Co., to take. At a coronavirus town hall hosted on Power 99 FM Wednesday night, she shared her frustrations.
“As we were watching the news everyday and hearing about the disproportionate numbers of morbidity and mortality, disease and death in the African American community, I just got tired of hearing it,” she said. “I was calling every city and state person I knew to say ‘Okay. What are we doing in Philadelphia? How can I participate in it?‘ And I wasn’t hearing anything.”
“And I kept getting calls from friends and friends of friends that were telling me, ‘I took the bus, but it was a drive-up place, and they wouldn’t test me,’ ” Stanford continued. “Or ‘My doctor gave me a referral, but my doctor is on staff at Jefferson, and I went to Einstein, so they wouldn’t take my referral.’ Or ‘I’m 48, and the city is only testing 50 and up, right?’ Or there’s this big [testing site] at 50th and Ogontz, right in the center of one of the hardest hit communities, and you can only get a test if you’re a healthcare worker or a senior, or you were over 50. So it was tough for us to get tested.”
Those frustrations led Stanford and her colleagues to form the Black Doctors COVID-19 Coalition. This group of doctors has been going to local churches and giving free coronavirus testing to people who have been exposed to someone with the virus within the last 14 days regardless of age or transportation status. The group is going out into the neighborhoods in a rented van to test people at local churches in the African American community, said the Rev. Marshall Mitchell, senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church, one of the churches that has partnered with the doctors. The group has a goal of testing 1,000 people a week, he said. The minivan with tests and doctors will be going all over the city, because there are Black people in need of testing all over the city, Marshall said.
“You’d be hard pressed to find one zip code in the city that’s not a hotspot,” Marshall said. “We’re a city that’s crowded with hotspots.”
To register for a coronavirus test, go to: www.realconciergemedicine.com and click on the COVID-19 tab. If you would like to help the Black Doctors COVID-19 Coalition continue its vital work of testing people in Philadelphia’s African American community, the group has a GoFundMe page where you can contribute to their work. For more information, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/covid19-BDCC .