Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, withdrew her name from the candidacy for the post of commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
In an interview on Sunday, Stanford cited the need to help oversee the consortium’s new health center, which bears his name. It’s a 10,000 square foot facility that opens in North Philadelphia this week. She said if she were to become a commissioner, it could be seen as a conflict of interest when the clinic seeks funds and other support from state and federal governments.
“My goal is for this center to be here forever,” she said.
She pledged to support whoever is chosen for the post of commissioner, stressing that this person will share the goal of promoting public health for the city’s residents, especially the most vulnerable.
Stanford has been nationally acclaimed thanks to the consortium, which it founded 18 months ago to deliver COVID-19 tests, and possibly vaccines, to underserved neighborhoods – serving tens of thousands of Philadelphians since the start of the pandemic. CNN named her one of its top 10 “Heroes of 2021” on Friday.
Former city health commissioner Thomas Farley resigned in May after admitting he had organized the disposal of the remains of the victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing. The bone fragments were later discovered in storage, but controversy has eroded confidence among many of the city’s black community.
Among those who asked Stanford to lead the department was City Council member Cindy Bass, who said the doctor’s medical expertise and outreach skills made her the perfect fit to restore that trust.
Cheryl Bettigole has been Acting Commissioner since Farley left.
Kevin Lessard, city spokesperson and Mayor Jim Kenney, said Sunday that a “national research process is still underway to fill this vital position. … We do not have any details on when an announcement will be made.
While declining to discuss any individual candidates, Lessard said the Kenney administration “has long respected” the work of Stanford and the consortium. “We look forward to continuing to collaborate and support their efforts,” he said.
The consortium’s new health clinic is called the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity. It includes eight examination rooms and other suites for social and behavioral services, located in a wing of the Evangelical Deliverance Church, at 2001 W. Lehigh Ave. at Swampoodle. In the coming months, organizers plan to add an X-ray room with equipment for mammograms and x-rays.
A surgeon who lives in Montgomery County, Stanford said she had been tempted to seek the job of city health commissioner because it would help her improve health outcomes in underserved groups. But she feared the role would take her away from her responsibilities at the fledgling clinic, which has the same purpose.
“The title helps, but the impacts of your words and actions are greater,” she said. “We are all working towards the same goal.
Her main goal, she said, is to make sure the clinic lasts long after she leaves.
Columnist Jenice Armstrong contributed to this article.