Embiid leads charge for medical staff testing

  • Senior writer for ESPN.com
  • Spent seven years at the Los Angeles Daily News

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing for front-line health care workers through Penn Medicine, he told ESPN on Friday.

A week after publicly pressuring Sixers ownership to reverse course on a plan to cut organizational salaries by 20%, Embiid is joining with the team’s managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer on a $1.3 million contribution to fund testing for 1,000 health care workers in the region.

“As Philadelphia prepares to cope with the spread of COVID-19, my heart goes out to all of the doctors and nurses who put themselves at risk of infection in order to help those in need,” Embiid said. “If the doctors and nurses get sick, then there is no one to help the rest of us who might get really sick over the next month.”

Over the past two weeks, Embiid has researched the best ways to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. He immediately pledged $500,000 to support medical relief efforts — like providing more personal protective equipment, which is in short supply all over the country.

But in discussions with Dr. David T. Martin from Apeiron Life and Dr. Brian Sennett from Penn Medicine, where he has been treated for various injuries during his time in Philadelphia, Embiid was told funding for antibody testing was one of the highest priorities, as it has the potential to lessen the need for personal protective equipment.

“It’s not as easy as simply writing the check,” Embiid said. “It’s a process to figure out the best way you feel comfortable helping.”

Embiid said he learned that “testing for COVID-19 antibodies has the chance to let health care workers know if they are immune to the virus.”

“If they have immunity, then they can work in risky environments with the peace of mind that they most likely won’t get infected again or spread the virus,” he added. “In addition, it may be possible for those with a lot of antibodies to donate blood and help other patients that are very ill.

“Also, if a patient is sick and a family member has antibodies, it may be possible to allow that person to enter the hospital to comfort their family member, which is important. Ultimately, antibody testing could be used to determine when people can go back to work … possibly even in the case of professional athletes like me.”

Embiid had been talking to Sixers ownership and general manager Elton Brand about projects they could get involved with to help the community deal with the public health crisis. Harris and Blitzer are graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and have maintained strong relationships with school officials.

When Harris and Blitzer saw Embiid’s passion for the project, they decided to partner with him in funding the testing.

“The only way for us to get through this terrible global crisis is to ensure a safe work environment for healthcare professionals and ultimately find a treatment,” Harris said in a statement. “We are very proud to partner with the incredible team at Penn Medicine, who are tirelessly working towards this by identifying immunity in our brave doctors and nurses.

“Joel has been a leader in highlighting the urgent need for this kind of testing — David and I thank him for his leadership in this area and are excited to join forces with him. Our medical workers are on the frontlines of this crisis, have been hit hardest by it and need all the help and support we can give them. We have rough days ahead, but with collective action like this, together we will make it through.”

The Sixers relationship with Embiid remained strong despite his public pressure for the franchise to reverse course on a widely unpopular pay cut for employees making over $50,000. Embiid had told ESPN he would financially help people affected by that decision — and within hours, Harris backed away from the idea.

Embiid then praised Harris and the Sixers organization on Twitter for “doing a 180.”

Over the past week and a half, the Sixers have worked closely with Embiid to set up this research fund, as well as donations approaching eight figures to initiatives that support hunger relief, education and the medical community in Philadelphia.

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