Open Door Family Medical Center Celebrates 50 Years

Open Door Family Medical Center is 50 years old.

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, Brewster, Mamaroneck, Mount Kisco, Port Chester, and Sleepy Hollow, 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 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.   

In 1976, it expanded to 165 Main Street site, where the Ossining center resides today, in what was formerly Hilliker’s Department Store. 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).  This all made health care for residents of these communities more accessible and affordable.  

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 they face outside of their physical symptoms, some of which have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. These barriers have made accessing health care often more complicated.”  

Continued Growth  

Under Farrell’s leadership, Open Door has greatly expanded its footprint. This has included the opening of new medical centers in Mount Kisco, Brewster, and Mamaroneck and new sites added in Port Chester and Sleepy Hollow; a dental office in Saugerties; the recently re-named Nita M. Lowey School-Based Health Centers at schools in Port Chester and Ossining and, this year, Webutuck; residency programs in family medicine with Phelps Memorial Hospital and dental with New York Medical College; and partnerships with organizations like The STEM Alliance, to facilitate the delivery of digital literacy services; and Family Services of Westchester, to support social service needs.  

Today, with an annual budget of over $66 million, Open Door cares for over 63,000 adults and children every year – with more than 300,000 patient visits and 450 babies delivered annually – regardless of one’s ability to pay. 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. “These were people who had no place to go and who no one was paying attention to.   

“It wasn’t a job. It was a mission. And filling that need was very heartwarming and satisfying.”  

For more information on Open Door’s 50 years, visit  opendoormedical.org/open-door-50th-anniversary/

About Open Door Family Medical Center and Foundation
Open Door Family Medical Center provides health care and wellness programs to individuals and families in need throughout Westchester, Dutchess, Putnam and Ulster Counties. A pioneer Federally Qualified Health Center, Open Door provides more than 300,000 patient visits annually and serves 63,000 individual patients who might not otherwise have access. Open Door offers integrated services and a holistic approach to building healthier communities. Primary medical care, dental care, integrated behavioral health care, clinical nutrition, wellness programs, and chronic disease management are the foundation of its clinical programs. Founded as a free clinic in 1972, Open Door’s mission of building healthier communities through accessible, equitable, culturally competent health care has led to site and service expansions. Today, Open Door operates centers in Brewster, Mamaroneck, Mount Kisco, Ossining, Port Chester, and Sleepy Hollow, in addition to nine School-Based Health Centers in the Port Chester, Webutuck, and Ossining School Districts, a mobile dental van in Mount Kisco, and a dental practice in Saugerties, NY. Open Door is accredited by the Joint Commission and is recognized by the National Committee on Quality Assurance as a Patient-Centered Medical Home. Open Door achieves clinical results that consistently surpass national benchmarks for patient outcomes. For additional information, please contact Elisabeth Gilbert, Senior Director of Development, at 914-502-1417.

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