North Philly’s Stanton community health center now offers COVID-19 testing

Dr. Ala Stanford administers a COVID-19 swab test on Wade Jeffries in the parking lot of Pinn Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Stanford and other doctors formed the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to offer testing and help address heath disparities in the African American community. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Dr. Ala Stanford administers a COVID-19 swab test on Wade Jeffries in the parking lot of Pinn Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Stanford and other doctors formed the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to offer testing and help address heath disparities in the African American community. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Philadelphia has added more COVID-19 testing capacity, opening a new site at the Health Center 5 community clinic on North 20th Street in the city’s Stanton neighborhood.

“This is a testament to our drive to get more testing available in underserved communities,”  Mayor Jim Kenney said at Tuesday afternoon’s event.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley pointed to the disproportionate effects of the coronavirus on Black communities, as well as low-income communities, as reasons why the city had chosen North Philadelphia for testing availability.

“This is one of many neighborhoods in the city with those characteristics,” Farley said. “And we need to have increased access.”

Located at 1900 N. 20th St., Health Center 5 is at the center of Stanton, where 8 out of every 10 residents is Black.

Some community leaders have expressed concern about city health centers’ dual use as primary care providers and COVID-19 testing sites, noting that without significant additional support, the clinics could easily become overwhelmed with patients or run out of tests. Although coronavirus testing is being provided as an additional service at Health Center 5, staffing there has not seen a corresponding increase.

But Darnell Wilkerson, director of Health Center 5, said he isn’t concerned about either numbers or test scarcity.

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“Initially, I think it was a concern,” Wilkerson said, “but I think we’ve got more than enough now.”

Others have wondered whether the availability of coronavirus testing — potentially attracting individuals who will test positive — would discourage local residents from seeking non-virus-related care at the neighborhood clinic. But Wilkerson doesn’t think that will be an issue, either. That’s in part because the testing area will be completely separated from the rest of the clinic, including a special entrance for individuals seeking testing.

It’s also because, in a city where other hospitals are seeing drops in visitor numbers, Health Center 5 has maintained a consistent number.

“We’ve basically been open five days a week,” Wilkerson said. “Our doctors have been very active in terms of reaching out to the patients and providing service to them.”

The opening of Health Center 5 as a coronavirus test site is just one more indicator of a shift in the city’s approach to testing since the pandemic began. In mid-March, COVID-19 testing sites were few and far between. Two months later, the city Health Department is taking steps to provide tests through every community health center — there are eight or nine city-run clinics, in addition to the sites run by hospitals, care centers and more. A list maintained by the city now lists 49 locations where individuals can receive the coronavirus test.

“What we’ve done is gradually increase the accessibility of testing,” Farley said. “We know we need to increase the numbers tested … and we’ve reworked these health centers so they’re more accessible.”

For Health Center 5, accessibility also means increased publicity, such as posts on social media letting neighborhood residents know testing is available and automated phone calls with the center’s specific location and test criteria.

“If we go back to our old way of living, there’s no question the virus will surge back, and it could be worse than it was before. We are working very hard to put all the safeguards in place so that doesn’t happen,” Farley said. “That includes the masks, that includes the social distancing, that includes the testing, that includes the contract tracing — all these pieces so that we can restart our economy in a safe way.”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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