Open Door Family Medical Center Celebrates 50 Years

Open Door Family Medical Center is 50 years old.

Open Door in Ossining when it first opened in 1972. Photo supplied

Beginning modestly a half century ago with a group of volunteer doctors and nurses in the basement of the First Baptist Church in downtown Ossining, Open Door today provides coordinated, comprehensive, and affordable health care annually to more than 63,000 people in the Lower Hudson Valley.

What began in the fall of 1972 as a free clinic has become a nationally recognized, multi-site, federally-qualified health center that offers a range of wraparound services – primary care, behavioral health, women’s health, dental, podiatric, vision, and WIC (Women, Infant, Children) – to people living in Westchester, Dutchess, Putnam and Ulster counties, regardless of their ability to pay. Today, this includes medical centers in Ossining, Port Chester, Mamaroneck, Mount Kisco, Sleepy Hollow and Brewster, a dental site in Saugerties, and School-Based Health Centers at schools in Ossining, Port Chester and Webutuck.

Arrival of Community Health Centers

Community health centers – the first one of which opened in 1965 – started to crop up around the country coming out of the civil rights movement and the war on poverty in the early ‘70s. The mission of the earliest health centers was to use the health care system to improve the health and the lives of their communities’ residents through the quality of their care, their affordability and their accessibility.

Today, health care centers, located in both rural and urban areas, provide care to an estimated 30 million underserved Americans and have become a part of the nation’s primary health care foundation. Open Door opened during a time when racial tensions ran high in Ossining and affordable health care was out of reach for many of its residents.

The Early Years

Marge Griesmer, an Ossining resident, was the fledgling organization’s first President/CEO. During that first year, she and her small voluntary staff opened the doors to about 1,000 patients. The following year, Open Door was granted community health center status.

Over the next two decades, Open Door would employ its first full-time physician (in 1980); offer dental services (1981); open a site in Sleepy Hollow (1985) and then a Rye Brook office to service Rye Brook and Port Chester (1995); expand to include behavioral health, podiatric, and optometry services (1986); establish a prenatal program with Phelps Memorial Hospital (1987); introduce a Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program (1989); offer HIV services (1990); and receive Joint Commission Accreditation (1998).

Open Door in Ossining as it looks today. Photo supplied

In 1998, Griesmer turned the reigns of the organization over to Lindsay Farrell, who will celebrate her 25th year as President/CEO in 2023.

“Our goal has remained the same for 50 years – to provide excellent, accessible and personal health care regardless of one’s ability to pay – and to build healthier families and communities,” said Farrell, who started as a volunteer at Open Door in 1986. “We continue to work closely with our patients to understand the many challenges and barriers they face outside of their physical symptoms, some of which have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. These have made accessing health care often more complicated.”

With an annual budget of over $66 million, Open Door cares for nearly 63,000 adults and children every year – with more than 300,000 patient visits and 450 babies delivered annually. With the slogan “Celebrating 50 More,” Open Door is prepared to serve more than 80,000 patients a year by 2030.

“Our mission is to reach new communities, enrich our service offerings, and continue to uphold the highest standards of quality, patient-centered, affordable health care,” said Farrell. “We’re proud of how far we’ve come and look forward to further meeting the needs of our communities in the years ahead.”

This all started 50 years ago with very humble beginnings, but exceptionally strong intentions. Those who have worked on the front lines from the beginning can best relate their feelings in being part of the journey.

“It was a privilege to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Carolyn Lane, who started as a volunteer and became one of the first two nurse practitioners hired by Open Door in the mid-1970s. “It wasn’t a job. It was a mission. And filling that need was very heartwarming and satisfying.”

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