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D.C. dermatologist plays leading role in COVID-19 testing for vulnerable communities


Ensuring access to testing amid the pandemic

American Academy of Dermatology honors Dr. Ginette Okoye with national “Patient Care Hero” award

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) named board-certified dermatologist Ginette Okoye, MD, FAAD, a Patient Care Hero for establishing a dedicated COVID-19 community testing site in a historically underserved neighborhood in northeast Washington, D.C.

Amid the initial surge in COVID-19 cases last April, local government stay-at-home orders temporarily closed Dr. Okoye’s Howard University dermatology clinic. Wanting to give back to her community—and armed with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrating the disproportionate toll of the virus on underserved and vulnerable communities—she rapidly mobilized clinical staff and dermatology program residents to establish a community testing site in Ward 7, east of the Anacostia River.

“When COVID-19 first hit Washington, D.C., I couldn’t sit back and watch the community suffer,” said Dr. Okoye, chair of the Department of Dermatology at Howard University Hospital. “Knowing that Black and brown communities were heavily impacted by the virus, we jumped into action to make sure D.C.’s most vulnerable residents had access to testing options.”

In less than a week, Dr. Okoye and her colleagues made the free testing site a reality. Once the doors opened up to the community, testing appointments immediately filled up. Local residents were able to schedule appointments without any referral, proof of insurance, or identification. At its peak, the COVID-19 testing site was open four days a week and averaged more than 100 tests per day.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, physicians—including dermatologists—stepped into new roles to mitigate the spread of the virus and improve care for people affected,” said Mark S. Johnson, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine. “Dr. Okoye and her team were instrumental in quickly launching a community testing site in an area of the city hit hardest by the pandemic that had no hospital and few testing options.”

In addition to the original site, Dr. Okoye’s team opened a second testing location at a nearby church and later launched an employee testing program at Howard University. Everyone from professors to janitorial staff was able to access regular testing and reduce community transmission of the coronavirus.

“Since the onset of the pandemic last year, dermatologists have responded in many ways–including stepping in to establish community-based testing sites for those who need it most like Dr. Okoye did,” said board-certified dermatologist Kenneth J. Tomecki, MD, FAAD, president of the AAD. “As we navigate out of the pandemic in the weeks and months ahead, it’s crucial that dermatologists continue to serve on the front lines alongside their physician colleagues.”

The AAD created the Patient Care Heroes program to recognize physicians who transform patients’ lives by utilizing their expertise and collaborating with other physicians to treat serious skin disease.

To learn more about the work of Dr. Okoye, visit www.aad.org/skinserious/stories-ginette-okoye.

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About SkinSerious
SkinSerious is a campaign by the American Academy of Dermatology that highlights dermatologists’ role as partners in the health care system, providing expert care for serious conditions. To learn more, visit SkinSerious.org.

About the AAD
Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair, and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair, and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin) or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology).