50 for 50

We celebrate our 50th Anniversary with powerful testimonials to the impact of Open Door throughout the past half century. From our earliest patients and staff to current community members, we celebrate all whom we have served, all who have provided care to our patients, and all whose support has helped us grow these past 50 years. We are grateful to everyone who shared their stories with us.
I see myself in every single adult patient.

If you have the wrong key, the door will not open.

This is how Yanira Padilla Cruz, the Associate Director of Care Coordination and Outreach has long seen her job at Open Door.

“At Open Door, we make every effort to help the patient,” says Yanira, who came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico in 2011 and started working at Open Door as a patient advocate in 2015. “What is unique at Open Door is that everyone here shares the mission. They are here because they really care and want to make a difference. They wake up every day wanting to help someone.”

Yanira worked for years as a nurse in her native land and applied for a job at Open Door from an ad in a local Penny Saver “because it sounded like a place where I would want to work.”

She was hoping to eventually regain her nursing license. Instead, she fell in love with her job, was quickly promoted into leadership roles and returned to school, where she eventually got her Master of Public Health.

She believes that having personally suffered with a chronic illness, where she was unable to work for years, gives her a special insight into her patients’ plight and provided her with a special empathy.

“I see myself in every single adult patient,” she says. “Having been ill helped me stand in my patients’ shoes. I tell them there is light at the end of the tunnel. I went through a lot of challenges and I wish I had a patient advocate or care manager like our patients do at Open Door.”

Many patients, primarily those who speak Spanish and need help navigating a complex health care system, often don’t feel comfortable sharing personal information or asking certain questions of their doctors, she says.

“Coming in with a nursing background has allowed me to translate medical terms into plain language so it’s easy for the patient to understand. We educate them and encourage them to share personal things so we understand their unique stories and can help them.”

For Open Door patients, people like Yanira provide the right key.

Open Door was efficient, upright and honest, and it provided a local service that people were greatly in need of.

It was in the mid-1970s that Judge William Wetzel, then a young lawyer who had recently moved his family from Peekskill to Briarcliff Manor, first heard from a friend about a fledgling health care organization that was struggling to provide medical care for those in the community who were in need of high quality, affordable services.

At the time, the cards were largely stacked against Open Door Family Medical Services. It employed one part-time physician, who only saw patients one night a week. Services were provided in a less-than-conducive setting – the basement of an Ossining church. And, the closest hospital wanted little to do with them.

But Judge Wetzel liked what he saw.

“Some people saw it as ‘socialized medicine’ and doctors were initially reluctant to get involved,’” remembers Judge Wetzel, who several years later would serve as Open Door’s board chair. “But Open Door was efficient, upright and honest, and it provided a local service that people were greatly in need of. Open Door was all the things that I supported philanthropically.”

Judge Wetzel, who spent 15 years on the state Supreme Court, says that the organization grew much faster than anyone imagined. “The community at large embraced the idea for providing medical services for the needy and it was so well run. There wouldn’t be an Open Door without the talent and commitment of Marge Griesmer and Lindsay Farrell (the organization’s only two presidents in 50 years).”

What would people from those early days be surprised to hear about the Open Door of today? “They would be shocked by the efficiency of the delivery system, by the scope of their services, and mostly by the fact of how great the demand is that they are fulfilling.

“Open Door put together a formula thanks to Marge and Lindsay. I’m overwhelmed that it got to this size and most impressed by its ability to provide a high-quality service not just in the village of Ossining, but throughout the county and the region.”

[Doctors] would even call me on the weekend to see how I was doing.

She was hired to spread the word about Open Door.

But when she became a patient, she saw it from a whole different perspective.

It was 15 years ago, shortly after arriving from Nicaragua to work as an au pair, that Gabby Saravia first heard about Open Door. Everybody in Port Chester, she says, seemed to have good things to say about the organization. It would be a great place to work, she thought, and nearly five years ago she was hired as a part-time outreach assistant. This soon turned into a full-time job. Eventually, Open Door promoted her to patient engagement administrator.

She helped patients learn to navigate the ins and outs of the healthcare system, which can be particularly challenging to those, like Gabby, who come here with little English fluency. She soon became a key voice to patients, reaching out to them from the Open Door patient portal, its Facebook page and its website. This often means giving those patients, who may have a problem, her personal phone number.

Over the years, she has spoken to scores of people in the community at Open Door events, like the Happy Mommy, Happy Baby program she helped initiate for new moms and their babies at Open Door sites in Ossining and Port Chester. Here, new moms brought their young babies to meet other women like them and hear advice from experts in areas like weight loss, behavioral health, nutrition, and exercise.

But it was during her pregnancy that Gabby experienced the Open Door way first-hand. Doctors and midwives monitored her closely when she began to show signs of gestational diabetes. “They were amazing, always staying on top of me,” she says. “They would even call me on the weekend to see how I was doing.”

She would probably not have chosen to breastfeed her daughter, Amelia, now 1, she admits, “if it hadn’t been for the experts, who convinced me it was the best thing to do. So, I thought I’d give it a try.”

She’s happy she did. Today, it’s the personal experience that she feels has made her even better at her job. “I have a much deeper understanding after being a patient,” she says. “It’s made me feel more confident when I talk to other patients. It was a great experience.”

Comencé el asesoramiento nutricional y hoy he bajado a 275 libras y me siento mucho mejor.

Al encontrar su peso aumentando incontrolablemente durante la pandemia, Jorge García ha estado en una jornada de pérdida de peso, que ya ha resultado en la pérdida de casi 50 libras.

Jorge pesaba hasta 323 libras, su presión arterial se había subido a más de 150 y tenía problemas cardíacos. Sus niveles de azúcar eran altos y contrajo Covid-19 dos veces. También estaba luchando contra una bacteria gastrointestinal.

"Mi asistente médico, Jens Haerter, me recomendó que tratara de perder peso y me remitió a Paola Caetano, una dietista registrada con el Programa de Bienestar de Open Door", dice Jorge. "Comencé el asesoramiento nutricional y hoy he bajado a 275 libras y me siento mucho mejor".

Dice que está agradecido con Open Door por su atención compasiva y de calidad y por nunca rechazarlo a pesar de no tener seguro e incapaz de pagar.

"Les diría a otros que pueden estar en una situación similar que deben trabajar duro y hacer su parte siguiendo las recomendaciones, haciendo ejercicio y practicando las pautas dietéticas que proporciona el equipo de Open Door", él dice. "Debemos tomar el control de nuestras propias vidas".

Dice que ahora se siente como un 7 en una escala del 1 al 10. Todavía está por debajo de su objetivo de bajar a 220 libras, lo que equivaldrá a una pérdida general de más de 100 libras, pero se siente que está bien encaminado.

Finding his weight climbing uncontrollably during the pandemic, Jorge Garcia has been on a weight loss journey that has already resulted in the loss of nearly 50 pounds.

Jorge weighed as much as 323 pounds, his blood pressure had soared over 150, and he had cardiac concerns. His sugar levels were high and he twice contracted Covid-19. He was also fighting a GI bacterium.

“My physician assistant, Jens Haerter, recommended that I try to lose weight and he referred me to Paola Caetano, a registered dietitian with Open Door’s Wellness Program,” says Jorge. “I began nutrition counseling and today I am down to 275 pounds and feeling much better.”

He says he is thankful to Open Door for both their compassionate and quality care and for never turning him away despite being uninsured and unable to pay.

“I would tell others who may be in a similar situation that you need to work hard and do your part adhering to the recommendations, exercising and following the dietary guidelines that the team at Open Door provides,” he says. “We must take control of our own lives.”

He says he now feels like a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. While still short of his goal of getting down to 220 pounds – which will amount to an overall loss of more than 100 pounds – he feels that he’s well on his way.

It was a privilege to make a difference in people’s lives. It wasn’t a job. It was a mission.

Carolyn Lane can take you on a tour through Open Door’s early history.

That’s because she lived it for more than 30 years.

Part-time doctors saw patients at night in the basement of the First Baptist Church in Ossining. Tables and chairs, normally used for Sunday School, were redeployed in the exam rooms. To say it was a seat-of-the-pants operation would be an understatement.

“In 1974, I met a pharmacist who when he heard I was a nurse, asked me if I would be interested working as a volunteer in a free clinic for the ‘working poor,’ people who could not otherwise afford medical care,” recalls Carolyn.

She needed little convincing. Soon, she was working two nights a week, “doing a little bit of everything.”

Two years later, Open Door hired Carolyn and Lee Engle as nurse practitioners to augment their care. This is about the time that an anonymous donation, a “Mr. X,” provided the funds for the organization to purchase the building across the street that had been Hilliker’s Department Store.

“There were carousel horses and antiques on the third floor,” she says. “Here they set up women’s health and pediatrics, mostly for well visits and preventive care. Phelps Hospital rented space for psych. Eventually, Open Door bought the Ross Men’s Wear building next door.”

Every 10 years or so over the next three decades, she says, Open Door experienced a growth spurt. In 1986, it opened its Sleepy Hollow office on Benedict Avenue, where Carolyn saw patients one afternoon a week. The Port Chester site opened about 10 years later. And then, in 2006, when Carolyn was ready to retire, Open Door added Mount Kisco.

“It was a privilege to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. “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.”

As an example, she remembers one young woman who had come to see her. Pregnant, she was unsure whether to keep the child.

“I had never told her what to do, but we would have a dialogue. We were here to help people and tell them their options and risks and help them make their own decisions.

“She had stopped coming to Open Door and I hadn’t seen her in a while. Then a couple of years later, I had a knock on my door and there was a woman holding a toddler. “She said, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but I want to introduce you to my daughter, Carolyn.’”

It was a time when people were really tuned into helping the poor and the homeless. I enjoyed working in that kind of environment.

Hundreds of nurses have worked at Open Door over the past half century.

But Lee Engle was the first to draw a paycheck.

Lee was working as a volunteer pediatric nurse in Ossining in 1973 when management at the fledgling organization sent her to Columbia University to become a nurse practitioner. Only eight years earlier, the first school for nurse practitioners had been founded in the U.S. to meet the increasing need for primary care. By the end of the 1970s, the number of NPs in the country grew to 15,000. Today, there are nearly 200,000.

Open Door did the most they could in those early days with limited resources – beyond a small, unrelenting and passionate group of individuals. They were the little engine that could. Lee remembers when staff literally moved furniture from the church basement to its new location in what was previously a department store because it couldn’t afford the cost of a moving company. Still, she thought so highly of the medical care it provided, that her daughter, Liz Fidele, remembers getting her primary care at Open Door from the time she was a small child until she became an adult.

“It was a time when people were really tuned into helping the poor and the homeless,” says Lee. “I enjoyed working in that kind of environment. It was a cause I wanted to get behind.”

She recalls the great camaraderie among staff. Their families pitched in for other families.

“We had generations of families come through as patients,” she says. “We took care of little boys and girls and then we saw them become parents and grandparents. It all happened right before our eyes. Parents would come in and say, ‘Hi, Dr. Lee, you were my doctor and I would have to correct them and remind them I was their nurse.”

Patients have not forgotten Lee, who worked at Open Door for 27 years. “My mom recently had a stint in long-term rehab,” says Liz Fedele. “A lot of her former patients worked there and remembered her. They would say, ‘You took care of me then and now I’m taking care of you.’ “

I could identify with their struggles.

Volunteers like Jim Jackman have always played a big role at Open Door, but perhaps no more so than during the height of the pandemic.

After selling his Mamaroneck gas station and following back surgery, Jim was looking to keep busy by helping others. He came across Open Door on the VolunteerNewYork website. Admittedly, at the time, he knew nothing about the organization.

After contacting Open Door Senior Manager of Volunteer Services, Jane Levy, Jim delivered toys as part of the Toy Giveaway holiday program. When many Open Door patients in 2020 and 2021 were homebound and unable to access groceries for fear of leaving their homes and contacting the virus, Jim brought packages of food to them. Once or twice a week he drove from his Yorktown Height home to deliver basic food staples – bags with cans of soup and beans, jars of peanut butter, “healthy food,” he says – to those Open Door patients most in need.

“A lot of people were surprised to see me,” he says. “I went into lots of different neighborhoods.“ At one basement apartment, he had to walk through a foot of water to deliver the package. He says he felt bad for many of the people on his route, but he also could identify with their struggles.

“I know what it’s like to go to bed hungry,” says Jim, who first lived on his own as a teenager. “I would work six days and since I didn’t get paid until the weekend I would sometimes run out of food by Friday. I would live on instant pancakes – until Kraft mac and cheese came on the market.”

Occasionally, he took his young daughter on food deliveries with him to show her the importance of giving back to those less fortunate. He’s exceedingly humble about his own role.
“I see people like Jane as heroes,” he says. “She does it all from her office and makes a huge difference in people’s lives.”

I am beyond words and so thankful for Open Door.

“I am beyond words and so thankful for Open Door.”

So begins a letter recently sent by Nickolas Cooper, a professional photographer and patient at Open Door.

“Having the ability to wake up and be pain-free, to smile without being embarrassed, or just to be able to engage in a conversation and not rush through because your teeth hurt. I could not have imagined this as recently as last year. But Open Door gave me that gift.”

As a small business owner, Nickolas lost his health insurance during the pandemic. For the first time, he was faced with finding health care and dental services on his own. “I wasn’t sure where to go or who to call, but Open Door was the first to offer me a timely appointment and reassure me that I would get the care I needed.”

He calls scheduling his first visit at Open Door one of the best decisions of his life. “They demonstrated compassion and wisdom from the time I received my initial visit and X-rays,” he writes. “They even took an X-ray of every tooth to make sure they did not miss anything. They coordinated with my schedule to find time when I could come for an appointment. I subsequently have been able to renew my business/personal insurance. However, I chose a policy that ensures that my care can continue with Open Door. I simply could not imagine moving to a new dental office.”

Nickolas' appreciation for the excellent care he received prompted him to give back to Open Door by donating his services to photograph mothers and babies at Open Door events. “To see the smiles of other patients who have been impacted by Open Door is deeply gratifying,” he writes. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you Open Door for everything you have done for me – allowing me, for the first time in half a decade, to truly be appreciative of every moment of every day."

Dr. Max was incredible from the very first moment. He really cares about his patients and the healthcare of the community.

The last couple of years, the pandemic notwithstanding, have been very good for Nick Antaki.

The 37-year-old Port Chester man got married. He bought a house. His wife, Gabriela Saravia, the patient engagement administrator at Open Door, gave birth to their first child, Amelia.

And, the Wall Street executive realized he needed to change the course of his health.

It began with his wife referring him to “Dr. Max” (Dr. Robert Dyksterhouse, an internist in the Port Chester Open Door site). Nick was overweight and his blood pressure was high. Plus, family history is not necessarily on his side – his beloved great uncle died far too young at 50 from a massive heart attack when Nick was just 13.

“Dr. Max was incredible from the very first moment,” says Nick. “He was very thorough in getting a full history, asking a lot of questions and digging in when it came to his concerns and the challenges. He really cares about his patients and the healthcare of the community.”

He got Nick to see an Open Door nutritionist, who explained to him the importance of eating properly. This included teaching Nick what goes into a balanced diet and making him more mindful of proper portion size, which has admittedly been a problem over the years.

“I’m half Italian and half Syrian,” says Nick. “A great combination for enjoying food. It was very easy to gain weight, a lot more fun to put it on than take it off.”

Dr. Max changed Nick’s blood pressure medication. He helped him with a regular exercise regimen that includes cardiovascular, core and weight training.

To date, Nick has lost 50 pounds. He looks and feels better than he has in years. And he now has a clear plan moving forward – and a strong incentive.

“I’ve always battled weight, lost and gained 100 pounds,” says Nick. “But now, I’m motivated. It’s more than just vanity. I’m doing it for the sake of love. I have people counting on me. It’s a higher calling.”

I still feel like I’m part of Open Door. I dream this constantly. Sometimes I think I forgot to punch out.

In Simon Benavides’ dreams, he still works for Open Door.

Meanwhile, an organization can only dream about having people as devoted to its cause as Simon Benavides.

It was soon after Open Door opened in 1972 that Simon and his wife Mariana, recent emigrants to Ossining from Ecuador, first heard about “this lady Margaritta” (Marge Griesmer), who had opened a local health clinic. “There we found medical care for our (six) children free of charge,” says Simon. “In many situations, free medicine was possible. So, we started going to Open Door.”

An industrial engineer in his native country, Simon was too proud to accept free medical care. He insisted on giving something back by working as a handyman at Open Door. He cleaned, repaired, and painted, maintaining the plumbing, electricity, and air conditioning for the foundling operation.

As donations started pouring in for the new health care center, Margie Griesmer felt it was unfair for Simon to work without compensation. “She started paying me every month,” he remembers. “She said, ‘You come in every day and you give us hours and we’ll pay you.’ I said, ‘You give me whatever is in your heart.’ Every time I was in need, Open Door always offered my family and community a great service.”

This connection only grew over the years, with Simon eventually wearing a different hat – as a member of the Open Door board in the 1980s. And even though he had a full-time job, he always considered Open Door his main job. “I still feel like I’m part of Open Door. I dream this constantly. Sometimes I think I forgot to punch out.”

Simon’s feelings for Open Door fueled his idea several years ago to build a museum with artifacts from the organization’s early years. Although it never came to fruition, he likes to point out the copper pipe he found and installed nearly 50 years ago at the 165 Main Street site in Ossining. Like the contributions made by Simon over the years, you can’t miss it when you walk through Open Door’s front door.

I love Open Door’s ability to bring services to the community and I have so much respect for Lindsay and Dr. Wu and the leadership.

An organization's success is dependent on building a solid foundation (lower case “f”).

And caring for the needs of an underserved community, says one long-time member of the Open Door Foundation board (capital “F”), begins with creating the right kind of community of supporters.

“I love Open Door’s ability to bring services to the community and I have so much respect for Lindsay and Dr. Wu and the leadership. Lindsay is a tremendous leader and big thinker,” says Leslie Allen, who got her feet wet with Open Door in the 1990s by organizing house tours and overseeing the creation of high-profiled concerts to raise money, and went on to play an integral role for 17 years on its Foundation Board. “But what is also so impressive is the breath of the people who make up Open Door. The friendships and relationships I formed on the board have been very special. What Lindsay has done so well is to create a community to serve the community. There are a lot of voices to be heard and they all count.”

Leslie, a highly visible “mover and shaker” in her community, who presently serves as chair of the Ossining Public Library Foundation, says she has always been impressed by Open Door’s innovation. As examples, she points to the health-based health centers and the mobile dental units.

“Somehow, we make it work one way if not another,” she says. “It has certainly become a much more complicated business since I left the board. And, yes, I certainly didn’t know it would become so big, but Open Door continues to provide exceptional services. The quality of services can’t be beat.  And it all begins with a solid foundation.”

As a legislator, I’m so pleased Open Door is where it is today and provides such a wonderful service.

It was as a parent that Sandy Galef first became acquainted with Open Door in the 1970s.

“I would bring my two children there,” says the long-time assemblywoman, who was first elected to the state assembly in 1992 and served as a county legislator before this.  “My daughter seemed to get strep throat every time we went on vacation and I remember going to Open Door in the basement of the church and the doctor giving us pink medication to take on the trip.  I remember how important it was that they were open evenings and weekends.  It saved a lot of people from ending up in the ER.”

It was actually Steve Galef, her late husband, who several years earlier was the first member of the Galef family to become acquainted with Open Door.  As an attorney and community advocate involved in urban renewal and later as a county legislator, he knew the need for a high quality, affordable health care option in Ossining.   Accessible food and health care, were his top priorities for his constituents, says Assemblywoman Galef.  Steve Galef later served on the Open Door board.

“As a legislator, I’m so pleased Open Door is where it is today and provides such a wonderful service,” says Sandy.  “I don’t worry about people getting appropriate health care in our communities regardless of income level or ethnic background.  I can’t say the same when it comes to the rest of the state, but here we’re very fortunate to have such an environment.”

Me proporcionó la educación que necesitaba para ayudar a mis hijos a estar más sanos.

Janeth Arpi y Veronica Tinoco, dos pacientes de Open Door, expresan su agradecimiento por un programa único y práctico de cocinar y nutrición que les ha brindado las herramientas que necesitan para practicar una dieta saludable para ellas y sus hijos.

Treinta pacientes en el 2022, mujeres prenatales, cuidadores y padres de niños de hasta cinco años, participaron en el programa Cooking Matters de ocho semanas de Open Door. A través de una subvención de seis meses, el programa ofreció clases virtuales de cocina y materiales
educativos sobre la alimentación saludable y económica tanto en inglés como en español. Los pacientes también recibieron mensajes de texto semanales con información de salud y nutrición extraída directamente del plan de estudios de Cooking Matters, incluyendo enlaces a recursos en línea de Cooking Matters como videos y folletos.

"Me proporcionó la educación que necesitaba para ayudar a mis hijos a estar más sanos", dice Janeth, quien llegó a los Estados Unidos hace cuatro años y tiene dos hijos pequeños. "Aprendí cómo alentarlos y enseñarles a comer diferentes alimentos y cómo porcionar las comidas según sus preferencias. Me enseñó a usar formas creativas de alentar a mis hijos a probar diferentes alimentos nutritivos y no solo a ceder porque dicen 'no me gusta eso&#39".

Cooking Matters trabaja en comunidades de todo el país para ayudar a los padres y cuidadores a desarrollar sus habilidades para comprar y cocinar alimentos saludables y económicos. Aprenden como cocinar, preparar comidas, hacer compras, mantener un presupuesto para los
alimentos y la nutrición.

"Como padres, a veces solo queremos complacer a nuestros hijos y darles lo que quieren, una comida rápida", dice Verónica. "Cooking Matters me ayudó a aprender que hay maneras de introducir a mis hijos a los vegetales y las frutas de una manera impactante. A mi hija (de 3 años) le gusta cortar los vegetales, lavarlos y ahora incluso le gustan los vegetales en su pizza. Ahora también le gustan las frutas. Su dieta ha cambiado mucho".

Los participantes también recibieron una bolsa con utensilios de cocina, recetas, frutas y vegetales, e ingredientes cada semana. "Toda la premisa de Cooking Matters es educar a las personas sobre cómo comprar y preparar alimentos saludables y económicos para evitar la inseguridad alimentaria", dice Claudio Villarroel, director asociado de Programas de Bienestar en Open Door.

La inseguridad alimentaria es un problema para muchos de los pacientes de Open Door. Las comidas de Cooking Matters incluyeron favoritos como tartas de frutas, mini pizzas, batidos de frutas, atuneros, envolturas de vegetales, salteados, cenas de pasta y quesadillas de vegetales, todos preparados de manera saludable.

Janeth Arpi and Veronica Tinoco, two Open Door patients, express thanks for a unique, hands-on cooking/nutritional program that has given them the tools they need to practice a healthy diet for themselves and their children. 

Thirty patients in 2022 – prenatal women, and caregivers and parents of children up to the age of five years old – participated in Open Door’s eight-week Cooking Matters program.  Through a six-month grant, the program offered virtual cooking classes and educational materials on eating healthy and affordably in both English and Spanish. Patients also received weekly text messages with health and nutrition information drawn directly from the Cooking Matters curriculum, including links to such online Cooking Matters resources as videos and handouts.

“It provided me with the education I needed to help my children become healthier,” says Janeth, who arrived in the U.S. four years ago and has two young children.  “I learned how to encourage and teach them to eat different foods and how to portion meals to their preferences.  It taught me how to use creative ways to encourage my children to taste different nutritious foods and not just give in because they say ‘I don’t like that.’”

Cooking Matters works in communities across the country to help parents and caregivers develop their skills when shopping for and cooking healthy and affordable foods.  They learn about cooking, meal preparation, grocery shopping, food budgeting and nutrition.

“As parents, sometimes we just want to please our children and give them what they want, a quick meal,” says Veronica.  “Cooking Matters helped me to learn there are ways to introduce my children to vegetables and fruits in an impactful way.  My (3-year-old) daughter enjoys chopping vegetables, washing them and now even likes vegetables on her pizza.  She also likes fruits now.  Her diet has changed a lot.”

Participants also received a bag with cooking utensils, recipes, fruits and vegetables, and ingredients each week. “The whole premise of Cooking Matters is to educate people on how to shop for and prepare healthy and affordable foods to avoid food insecurity,” says Claudio Villarroel, associate director of Wellness Programs at Open Door.   

Food insecurity is a problem for many of Open Door’s patients. The meals with Cooking Matters included such favorites as fruit tarts, mini pizzas, fruit smoothies, tuna boats, veggie wraps, stir fry, pasta dinners and vegetable quesadillas, all prepared in a healthy manner.

The convenience of having Open Door and its providers in the school has been invaluable to us.

Ossining Union Free School District School Superintendent Dr. Ray Sanchez believes in the African proverb “It takes a village.” This is why he places a priority on building relationships with community partners to enrich the district’s services and resources. 

“We know that we better meet the needs of our children and families because we work closely with some outstanding partners,” he says.  “It’s like tools in the toolbox.  The more tools we have, the better we are able to adapt our programs and our structures to support those needs.”

Open Door has long been one of those valued partners.

The Ossining schools and Open Door have partnered on many projects over the years, from having the Open Door dental van treat young patients at its early childhood schools, to collaborating on Health and Wellness days that provide information on staying healthy, to fostering a health leadership program that gives high school students with an interest in pursuing careers in the medical field the chance to get first-hand experience at Open Door.

Without question, the most obvious benefit of the partnership between the two has been the longstanding Ossining School-based health centers in its elementary, middle and high schools.  “There are very positive components to having Open Door in the building from a health and wellness perspective for our students and our families,” says Dr. Sanchez.  “Parents would otherwise have to make appointments and leave their jobs to take their kids to the doctor.  The convenience of having Open Door and its providers in the school has been invaluable to us.”

Dr. Sanchez, who started working at Ossining schools more than 20 years ago, beginning as a fourth-grade teacher and becoming in 2013 the school superintendent for the 5,000-student district, says he became more and more aware of Open Door as he moved up the ranks.  “When I moved into the central office, I started to understand all the workings of Open Door and the robust offerings it has for families.  I became aware of its dental and mental health services, and have been humbled to know all it does and the proactive work it does for our families.

“Its impact is far reaching and we are thankful and supportive of its efforts.  Open Door is not a good agency, but a great agency and I feel very fortunate as a superintendent to have such a great gem in our home community.”

At Open Door, we rely on each other and there’s great teamwork. The staff embodies what we say in our mission statement. It’s not something just written on paper. This is a really, really special place.

Open Door’s School-Based Health centers (now known as the Nita M. Lowey Center for Health in Schools) have long been a lifeline for children and families in Port Chester and Ossining.  

For the past 13 years, Lindsay Neptune, a pediatric nurse practitioner and its director of clinical services, has seen its importance first-hand.

“We get to see kids in their environment and learn how they interact with classmates, teachers, and support systems.  This gives us a unique perspective, a very different one than one gets in a doctor’s office,” she says.  “For working parents, it’s so much easier to know their children can get what they need and can access services here without having to miss work or take their children out of school for a physical exam or to see a provider.”  

This has been particularly important for recent emigrants, who comprise a significant percentage of Open Door’s patients.  It has meant, says Lindsay, obtaining immediate services and insurance coverage for a young patient presenting with type 1 diabetes, or finding a heart murmur during a routine physical exam of a child whose parents were fearful to reveal her condition, or providing mental health services to a young student who had arrived in this country after his family suffered a life-altering trauma.   

“These are all very scary things for families to live through and you don’t know who you can trust,” says Lindsay.  “We help families find their voice and provide them with a safe place.”  

Lindsay, who previously worked as a pediatric nurse at hospitals in Connecticut, was initially attracted to Open Door’s mission.  “Serving a population that was underserved is what I always wanted to do,” she says.  “I wanted to work with an elementary school population and do more in the community.  It was a great match.”  

Open Door has grown to nine school-based health centers in these towns’ elementary, middle and high schools.  Despite the expansion, and the fact that they have grown and flourished over the years, Lindsay calls the pandemic the most challenging time of her career – one that continues today.

“It forever changed health care and access to it,” she says.  She points to the centers still playing catch up in balancing her young patients’ preventive care needs and contending with the obesity and mental health crises that the pandemic produced. 

Challenges notwithstanding, she believes Open Door and its School-Based Health centers are unique and critical to the lives of her patients and their families.

“At Open Door, we rely on each other and there’s great teamwork.  The staff embodies what we say in our mission statement.  It’s not something just written on paper.  This is a really, really special place.”

Everyone at Open Door is seen as a person and as someone who has rights, regardless of their documentation status or poverty status. We care for patients that other places don’t.

For four years, before arriving as a physician assistant at Open Door, Rachel Snider lived and worked in the Dominican Republic.  

“It helped me understand what it means to be in another country and not understand the language or how the society and culture work,” says Rachel.  Living in a small rural town, she would pack up her jeep each day with medications and drive to one of seven nearby towns to set up clinics for people desperately in need of medical care.  She accomplished what she set out to do:  hone her clinical skills (she was often on her own), help those most in need and become fluent in Spanish.

“I feel the same vibe here at Open Door in that I am still working with humble, needy, bilingual patients,” says Rachel, who routinely sees as many as two dozen patients a day ranging in age from newborns to 90-year-olds.  “But, unlike in the DR, the resources I have here and the mentoring is incredible.  We have amazing programs.” 

Also very special, she says, are the people.  “The compassion everybody has at Open Door is very special,” she says.  “Everyone is so empathetic and passionate about what they are doing.  Many who work here were once in the same place as our patients.  They were immigrants forced to navigate an often-complex health care system.  The people who work here really want to be here.”

Working in a family medicine practice, says Rachel, has also allowed her to take a leadership role in Open Door’s Dramatic Performance Improvement (or DPI), its organization-wide quality improvement project, and to oversee its PA internship program.

“I love the continuity of care we offer here, being able to foster relationships with the entire family,” she says.  “We may have an eight-year-old with obesity and a mother who has the same issues and we work together with them as a family.  I love to say to the patients, ‘We’ll never have to turn you away.’ 

“I love that patients feel safe here and are accepted.  Everyone at Open Door is seen as a person and as someone who has rights, regardless of their documentation status or poverty status.  We care for patients that other places don’t.”

Open Door was a game changer. Its mission was to take care of everyone in the community. They didn’t care where you came from.

The job assignment changed her life.

It started in the summer of 2015 when Leanna D’Agostino Gissen, a recently minted Hunter College graduate with a degree in psychology, enlisted in AmeriCorps. Leanna planned to complete a one-year term of service and earn an education award from the program before returning to school for her Master’s degree in social work.

Fate, however, intervened when the national service and volunteer organization, which partners with local organizations, assigned Leanna to her first choice – Open Door Family Medical Center.

Leanna knew Open Door well, having grown up in Ossining. “My parents grew up in an Ossining that was very different from the Ossining that I grew up in.” She remembers hearing from her parents, who attended Ossining High School in the 1970s, and her immigrant grandparents, how much of an impact Open Door had in helping the people in town who needed it most. “Open Door was a game changer. Its mission was to take care of everyone in the community.  They didn’t care where you came from.”

Leanna was assigned to work in Open Door’s growing Wellness Department.  When she started, she knew little about the field of wellness.  However, within a short time, she fell in love with what the department was doing and the exercise, nutrition education, and chronic disease self-management and prevention programs that were making such a difference in the lives of their patients.

She completed two tours of duty with AmeriCorps, earning a Group Exercise Certification, before Open Door hired her as a Wellness Coordinator.  She found an even deeper love for the programs offered by its Wellness Department as a teacher.  Through her employment, she soon got certified as a Diabetes and Chronic Disease Self-Management Program Leader, and then as a Lifestyle Coach for the National Diabetes Prevention Program. She expanded her group exercise certifications to include a Pilates certification and most recently became a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). She is now working on her prenatal and postnatal certifications.  Today, she teaches various evidence-based programs and group exercise classes, allowing her to witness first-hand how through exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, and sleep, patients are able to take their health into their own hands.

Leanna is grateful to have found an organization that supports her personal and professional growth while also enabling her to improve the lives of others.

“I’ve loved Open Door since I was a student at Ossining High School,” she says.  “It’s something I wanted to become a part of. I love how we serve our patients, who are really in need of support.  To me, Open Door is so much more than just a health center."

Even when I didn’t speak English well, my needs were never put aside at Open Door.

Claudio Villarroel arrived in Ossining 20 years ago with limited English language skills, but ample ambitions.

He left a country, Chile, that was recovering from years of dictatorship and civil unrest. He had started college and been drafted into the army there. “I came here by myself without any tuition money. My aunt helped me. She said ‘come for a little while and go to school and work here,’” he says. “I ended up staying.”

It was tough at first. Due to security concerns after 9/11, he would not see his mother or sister in Chile for six years. While learning English, he started taking classes at Westchester Community College, where he received a certificate as a nurse’s assistant. He took a job at a local hospital, becoming part of a committee there that promoted inclusion for underrepresented communities.   

Meanwhile, while always working fulltime, he continued his education, getting his Bachelor’s degree in biology from SUNY Purchase. He later received a Master’s degree in Nutrition, which led to a job with Open Door WIC as a nutritionist. He is now a Doctoral candidate in health science working on the last part of his thesis.

Long before he started working at Open Door, he knew the health center as “a pillar in the community” for immigrants like him. This is where he has always received his primary care and where he has the utmost confidence in his providers. Years ago, for example, when he had a toothache and was told by a local dentist that the tooth needed to be extracted, he said “Let me think about it,” and went to Open Door for a second opinion. “The dentist said he could fix it.   I was out in an hour and that tooth has given me no more problems – and I still have it. 

While with WIC, he started attending exercise classes – kickboxing, Pilates, yoga – in the Ossining Open Door site. This seems predestined, as in 2021 he became associate director of its wellness programs (which includes its diabetes self-management and prediabetes prevention programs and chronic disease program). When the wellness programs were closed during the pandemic, he became involved in the organization’s food security program, helping deliver thousands of meals to patients who were homebound due to Covid-19. He and his team also brought the wellness program online so patients could continue to work out at home without missing a beat.

Claudio is proud of his continuing relationship with an organization that has become such a big part of his life.

“Even when I didn’t speak English well, my needs were never put aside at Open Door,” he says. “I was always treated with dignity and respect. They always try to accommodate everyone in the community. I am proud of being a part of this organization.”

Open Door gave me more than I gave it. It provided me with a great sense of satisfaction in what it accomplished.

Walter Edge remembers going about his business, casually pushing his shopping cart down the aisle of the local supermarket, when he couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two fellow shoppers.  

“Where can you find good, affordable health care around here?”  asked one. 

“Have you tried Open Door?” offered the other.  

Walter couldn’t resist the temptation to weigh in.  “Yes, I think that’s a great choice,” he said.  “Open Door is an excellent place with great service and an outstanding staff.  I’ll even help you get there and introduce you.”  

A long-time teacher, principal, coach and school administrator in New York City and Westchester County, Walter admittedly knew little about Open Door before being recruited to join its Operating Board of Trustees in 2000 by his neighbor, Lindsay Farrell. Lindsay had recently become Open Door’s President and CEO and she believed that Walter, then President of the homeowners’ association they were both active in, would be a welcome addition.  The move was prescient – Walter would spend the next 17 years on the board, where he would play an integral role in the organization’s growth.  

As far as Walter is concerned, however, “Open Door gave me more than I gave it.  It provided me with a great sense of satisfaction in what it accomplished.”  He recalls his days on the board fondly, remembering it as a body that met its’ mission of providing the community with excellent and affordable health care.  It took a great collaborative effort, he says, among people from different walks of life who worked together for the common good.   

It was a case of “mission accomplished,” he says, in terms of what Open Door has meant to the community and to him as a board member.   

“Why do you want to be a board member?  You want to contribute to the cause, to learn, to help others, to have influence and have a sense of giving back,” he says.  “Open Door met my personal goals, beyond my dreams. For the community, it’s an excellent organization that has made and continues to make a huge difference in the lives of its people.  In both cases, it’s been a perfect match.”  

I’m proud of my association with Open Door and the impact they make in the community.

As a long-time member of the Open Door Foundation Board and, ultimately, its president, Sue Greene Fuirst knew the organization intimately.   

And yet, it was a moment that occurred shortly after she left the board that sticks in her mind.  

“I volunteered at the Mount Kisco office when they were administering Covid vaccines in early 2021, and when the patient population left and there were still vaccines left, I made phone calls to those looking for vaccines,” she says.   

This was at a time when many people were calling frantically, adding their names to multiple waiting list sites in the hopes of hitting the vaccine lottery.   

“Some of these people were Open Door donors, and when they came in to be vaccinated they had an ‘aha’ moment,” she says.  “For the first time they saw how the medical staff operated and what the office looked like.  To see it through was empowering.  They saw the professionalism and respect our providers have for all their patients.  I heard people say ‘This is better than the doctor I see on a regular basis.  This runs smoother than my usual practice.’  For me, it re-inoculated my own enthusiasm for Open Door.” 

She also visited local restaurants to tell wait staff and bus boys about the availability of sought-after vaccines.  Nearly two years later, she is still thanked.  

The Chappaqua native’s journey that culminated recently in her receiving the Community Leadership Award for her work with Open Door started a dozen years before when she attended an Elvis Costello concert held to raise funds for Open Door.  

“It was the messaging during the presentation that just hit me,” she says.  “My three kids were young then and I took my family’s health care largely for granted.  It made me aware of struggles others have in obtaining care.  Literally, the next day I called Open Door and asked about volunteer opportunities.”  

She became involved in the Reach Out and Read program because she wanted to do something interactive with Open Door’s patients.  “It was just so wonderful to see these young kids being able to enjoy themselves in the waiting room.  It removed the stress they may have felt being in a medical office and gave them the joy of understanding books bring.  From there I just got more and more involved.  I'm proud of my association with Open Door and the impact they make in the community." 

We’re highly efficient and we work together very well as a family. I feel we really make a difference.

It was 2008 and Ben Geisler, a recent graduate of Boston College, was unsure about his next move.  

So, while living at home with his parents in Cortlandt Manor, he spent a year as a dental assistant at Open Door’s nearby Ossining site.  

It proved to be time well spent.  Except for the years back in Boston to attend dental school at Boston University, he never left Open Door (which included spending summer vacations while in dental school and doing a one-year residency there).  Today, Dr. Geisler serves as dental site director in Ossining, where he practices general dentistry and oversees the patient care provided by a team of five dentists.  He balances this with one day a week at the Brewster site teaching dental residents.  

That post-graduate year at Open Door, he says, solidified his decision both to become a dentist and to spend his career in community health.  While many of his fellow dental school graduates chose the greater financial rewards of private practice, Dr. Geisler saw the critical need for quality dental care among those less fortunate.  And working in a federally qualified health care center, he found, gave him an enormous sense of personal satisfaction.  

“Private practice was not the life for me,” he says.  “I’ve found the people in community health care to be more appreciative.  They are very thankful.  While the focus at Open Door is on preventive care, there are also more emergency visits because those without insurance are more likely to avoid dental visits until they have pain.  We see many more acute cases than you would see in a private office.”  

Dr. Geisler spent several years at Open Door working on a state-of-the-art mobile dental van that was parked outside school-based health centers at schools in Ossining and Port Chester.  He believes that the van, which was forced to cease operations during the pandemic, will resume service shortly.  

“The kids enjoyed visiting the dentist while at school,” he says.  “The fear factor wasn’t there when they saw the dentist with their friends, rather than their parents.” 

Plans call for an expansion of dental services at Open Door in Ossining, which presently has eight dental chairs.  This will further provide the much-needed dental care that he says is so essential to an underserved community. 

“I love the day-to-day interactions,” says Dr. Geisler.  “We’re highly efficient and we work together very well as a family.  I feel we really make a difference.” 

Open Door was appropriately placed in the center of town and served as a trusted community service center for those in the black community.

For Joyce Sharrock Cole, Ossining’s official Village Historian, the history of Ossining, where she was born and raised, is in her blood.   

She holds a certification as a genealogical researcher and is a lead researcher of the Little Bertie County Genealogical Society.  She can document the arrival of her first relative into the region in the late 1890s, when the village was known as Sing Sing.    

Joyce balances her volunteer position as Village Historian with her full-time job as executive secretary to the commissioner of Westchester County Emergency Services. 

Her personal history with Open Door also runs deep.  

Open Door was where her mother received her health care in 1975, when she learned she was pregnant with Joyce, and where she later brought Joyce and her brother from the time they were small.  After graduating from college with a degree in Organizational Management, it was here Joyce brought her own children, and took advantage of its WIC program.    

For many underserved people in Ossining, Open Door replaced Dr. George Hill.  Dr. Hill was the village’s first Black physician, a much beloved figure, who retired and later passed away in 1974.   

“Open Door was appropriately placed in the center of town and served as a trusted community service center for those in the black community,” she said.  “There your clinicians knew your name and your family, and you always felt safe.  It was not the way TV showed a clinic, which had a negative connotation.  Open Door was certainly not that. Your care was paramount.  You’d get to see the best doctors even if you lacked insurance and they were like celebrities when you saw them on the street.” 

Joyce’s great aunt, Annie Buchanan, was one of Open Door’s first nurses.  Looking to employ local teens, Open Door hired Joyce, then an Ossining High School student, when it opened its first pharmacy.    

“I not only learned what different medications were used for, but I also learned about confidentiality in the workplace.  I knew why people at my school and community were taking certain medications, but I knew never to tell anyone.” 

Years later, when Open Door began offering wellness services, it looked to Joyce again in a whole different capacity.  This time, twice a week, she taught women belly dancing to support their health and fitness.   

“I don’t know many clinics where people feel safe to just go in and feel confident they will be given the care they need and deserve regardless of the ability to pay,” she said.  “I’ve always loved the Open Door.”  

They are not just about providing prescriptions for those who are sick or vaccines so kids can go back to school, but becoming part of a community that cares for your long-term health.

High quality, affordable public health, says Jamie Jensen, needs to be everyone’s concern.  

“Like public education, public health matters.  It should be part of everyday conversations,” says Open Door’s Foundation Board chair.  “People need to be healthy to go to school, to work, to care for family members, to vote, to be citizens in society.  Not paying attention to it is not good for anyone.”  

“Community centers are on the cutting edge, which has included caring for the underinsured and uninsured,” she says. “They have been doing this for a long time and they have an incredible track record.  They are not just about providing prescriptions for those who are sick or vaccines so kids can go back to school, but becoming part of a community that cares for your long-term health.”  

Jamie, who has long worked in the not-for-profit sector as the principle of her eponymous consulting firm and as an executive for the Rockefeller Foundation, sees affordable health care as a right.  “People deserve the kind of health care where everything that affects your health gets addressed.  If you want someone to live a healthy life, you need to have a ‘whole person’ mindset.” 

It was a member of her church who first led her to the Port Chester Open Door site located just minutes from her Rye home.  Soon, she was working as a volunteer for Open Door’s foundling Baby Bundle program, which at the time was awaiting financing.  Each Bundle today includes basic newborn essentials: diapers, wipes, sleep sack, onesies, socks, baby toy, cloth bib, newborn thermometer, baby books and seasonal clothes.  It’s one facet of Open Door’s “wrap-around” approach to supporting new mothers. 

She sees Open Door’s school-based health centers as a gamechanger for families. The model allows schools not only to be places of education, but to provide a set of eyes on the physical and emotional well-being of their students during the school day.   

“It warms my heart that Open Door has partnered with the local school communities,” she says.  “Healthy communities are at the heart of making sure children and their families have the opportunity to reach their full potential in both school and in life.” 

It’s all a part, she says, at what makes Open Door so special.

Open Door es como una familia para nosotros.

Mantener a una familia sana puede tomar un pueblo.  

Tomemos a Fabela Aguilera, por ejemplo.  Poco después de llegar a los Estados Unidos, con poca fluidez en el idioma inglés y una comprensión muy limitada del sistema de salud estadounidense, Fabela acudió a Open Door para una prueba de embarazo.  Fue en diciembre de 2008, y había sido referida por familiares y amigos.   

Desde entonces, varios profesionales médicos (médicos de atención primaria y enfermeras practicantes, expertos en salud conductual, podólogos, dentistas, nutricionistas y coordinadores de WIC y del Programa de Bienestar en Open Door) han desempeñado un papel clave en el cuidado de Fabela y su familia.  

Hoy, ella ve a la Dra. Nicole Arraiano.  El médico de su esposo es la Dr. Leslie Placta.  Sus tres hijos han sido atendidos a lo largo de los años por la enfermera facultativa Jill Gallin y el pediatra Andrew Swiderski.  Sus dos hijos y una hija también están inscritos en el centro de salud escolar de Open Door en Ossining.  

"Open Door es como una familia para nosotros", dice Fabela.  "Estoy muy agradecido por todo el personal que nos ha brindado una excelente atención a todas horas del día y acceso a recursos que han hecho posible mantener a mi familia sana y fuerte".  

Esto fue particularmente importante durante un momento en que enfrentó un problema con la salud de sus senos.  "Los médicos fueron proactivos en ayudarme", ella recuerda. Afortunadamente, las pruebas fueron negativas.   

La capacidad de conectarse con un navegador de pacientes después de las citas y para referencias a otros servicios ha marcado una gran diferencia, dice ella.  Ella recuerda, cuando estaba embarazada por primera vez, cómo su asistente del paciente trabajó con ella individualmente para abordar sus barreras a la atención prenatal y otros recursos comunitarios.  Esto la dejó sintiéndose segura y protegida.   

"He tenido una gran relación con Gabriela Saravia, administradora de participación del paciente de Open Door, quien me ha ayudado mucho con mis citas", dice Fabela.  "Puedo enviarle un correo electrónico directamente y ella responde rápidamente a mis necesidades de manera oportuna.  Cuando he tenido un desafío para llegar a cualquiera de mis proveedores, ella me ha ayudado a solucionar cualquier inquietud.  Open Door me hace sentir segura y la comunicación que he construido con Gabriela ha sido un gran apoyo". 

Keeping a family healthy can take a village.  

Take Fabela Aguilera, for example.  Shortly after arriving in the U.S., with little fluency in the English language and a very limited understanding of the American health care system, Fabela came to Open Door for a pregnancy test.  It was in December 2008, and she had been referred by family members and friends.   

Since then, a number of medical professionals – primary care physicians and nurse practitioners, behavioral health experts, podiatrists, dentists, nutritionists, and WIC and Wellness coordinators at Open Door – have played key roles in caring for Fabela and her family.  

Today, she sees Dr. Nicole Arraiano.  Her husband’s physician is Dr. Leslie Placta.  Her three children have been cared for over the years by nurse practitioner Jill Gallin and pediatrician Andrew Swiderski.  Her two sons and one daughter are also enrolled in Open Door’s school-based health center in Ossining.  

“Open Door is like a family to us,” says Fabela.  “I’m so grateful for all the staff who have provided us with excellent, round-the-clock care and access to resources which have made it possible to keep my family healthy and strong.”  

This was particularly important during a time when she faced an issue with her breast health.  “The doctors were proactive in helping me,” she recalls. Fortunately, the tests were negative.   

The ability to connect to a patient navigator after appointments and for referrals to other services has made a huge difference, she says.  She remembers, back when she was first pregnant, how her patient advocate worked with her one-on-one to address her barriers to prenatal care and other community resources.  This left her feeling safe and secure.   

“I’ve had a great relationship with Gabriela Saravia, Open Door’s patient engagement administrator, who’s been so helpful in assisting me with my appointments,” says Fabela.  “I can email her directly and she’s quick to respond to my needs in a timely manner.  When I’ve had a challenge reaching any of my providers, she’s helped me troubleshoot any concerns.  Open Door makes me feel safe and the communication that I’ve built with Gabriella has been a great support.” 

Through the connection we have with all departments at Open Door we can, for example, give a mother who has no place to live a roof over her head within minutes.

To Ellen Pospishil, a Registered Dietitian with Open Door’s WIC program, it’s the stories themselves that provide a snapshot into how Open Door impacts on the community. 

There’s the new mother who, during a return visit, reminds Ellen of how the WIC team first helped her baby breastfeed.  Ten months later, the child has never yet tasted formula, says the mother, because of “the time you and your staff took with me.” 

Or the little girl who tells Ellen when asked what she drinks, replies proudly, “I only drink water.  Never juice.”  

Or the family that is about to be evicted from their apartment and face homelessness until WIC contacts an Open Door patient advocate who finds them a new home. 

Ellen has spent over 25 years as a nutritionist, working with this underserved population and age group in what she considers a perfect fit for her.  “I love to provide the education for a mom and her child to understand, for example, the benefits of low-fat milk over whole milk or the health implications of breastfeeding to mother and child, and the interaction that helps us make changes that last a lifetime. Our explanations keep minds opened and more receptive to what they hear from us.”  

This may mean, for example, telling a new family in America that some of the good practices they followed in their native country – using nutritious recipes and cooking healthy – should not necessarily be substituted for some of those favored by many Americans, which all-too-often may include a diet of fast food, processed meats, and sugar-laden drinks.  “I say to them, ‘Let’s talk about how you were fed, and what can we incorporate into your lifestyle in the U.S.’” 

It often means supporting patients through the unique wraparound services available at Open Door.    

“Through the connection we have with all departments at Open Door we can, for example, give a mother who has no place to live a roof over her head within minutes.  The fact that we have all the resources of Open Door at our fingertips has an immense effect on our population.” 

What it comes down to, she says, is being a catalyst for change. 

“We’re laying the foundation for the rest of our patients’ lives by teaching them how to eat properly and the importance of breastfeeding,” she says.  “When I hear these stories, I know we’re making a difference.  Stories like these bring tears to my eyes.  Life changes for these children forever.” 

Being part of Open Door was an opportunity not only to find a home for the coalition, but to be in the midst of the kind of people you’d find in a ‘think tank.’ People who are so smart and yet detail oriented…

Sometimes it all starts with the right partner.  

The partnership between Open Door Family Medical Center and Ossining Communities That Care (OCTC) goes back nearly 20 years and has generated over $3 million in “prevention focused” funding to support and impact the outcome of youth in the community.  

OCTC was established in 2003 to organize the community to build infrastructure to support teens across the community, with the mission to secure the long-term health and well-being of Ossining youth and their families by reducing the use of alcohol and drugs and prevent underage drinking. 

Alice Joselow, OCTC’s coordinator then and now, needed to find a fiscal agent that would house the organization’s first Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) grant (the first of what would be five separate 4- or 5-year grants).  Having first met Lindsay Farrell years before as young mothers with the Junior League, she saw Open Door as the perfect partner.  

“Lindsay has long been a role model and mentor to me, someone who really knows how to get things done,” says Alice, who over the years has served in leadership positions with the Ossining PTA; Ossining Board of Education; Ossining Public Library; was a founding member of Ossining MATTERS, the local education foundation; and a managing vice president of the Ossining Food Pantry.  “Lindsay is a big picture thinker and a visionary when it comes to how to help the community.”   

Over the years, Alice has worked closely with the Open Door executive team and many of its clinicians, praising in particularly the extraordinary work of providers like pediatrician Dr. Andrew Swiderski and psychiatrist Dr. Jay Samander.    

“Being part of Open Door was an opportunity not only to find a home for the coalition, but to be in the midst of the kind of people you’d find in a ‘think tank.’  People who are so smart and yet detail oriented and so good in terms of having the big vision.  As they say, the rest is history.”  

OCTC follows the credo, “Our kids will make mistakes.  It’s our job to make sure they don’t become habits.”  To illustrate the coalition’s focus on prevention, Alice tells the story of the three sisters by the river.  It’s a story, she says, that has long resonated with her, one she first heard while sitting side-by-side in Washington D.C. with Lindsay shortly after OCTC received its initial SAMSHA grant.  

“The first sister saved babies caught in the current by jumping into the river and rescuing them.  The second sister taught the babies how to swim so they wouldn’t drown.  The third sister built a fence around the cliff so they wouldn’t fall in.  

“It’s about building that infrastructure to support youth so our kids won’t fall off the cliff.  That’s what we’ve done.”  

What drives the Open Door-MVP relationship is the commitment to the communities we serve, and we’re so like-minded on mission and vision.

While Open Door is devoted to providing affordable healthcare and wellness programs to the communities we serve, we couldn’t do it without the support of Visionary Sponsors such as MVP Healthcare. Not only does Open Door work closely with MVP to provide the best possible health insurance experience to many of our patients, it is also fortunate to have MVP as a financial supporter of our Open Door Foundation. 

According to Christopher Del Vecchio, president and chief executive officer of MVP, “If we’re going to serve the community, then we need to understand the community and be a part of it. Open Door believes this too, and that’s what we’re both doing.”  

Del Vecchio says, “I think Open Door’s commitment to creating a patient-centric care experience directly aligns with our belief system that patients need to be at the center of care. It’s the only way that I think we’ll be successful in dealing with whole-person health and wellbeing, and it’s one of the key ingredients in what we admire the most about Open Door.” 

“What drives the Open Door-MVP relationship is the commitment to the communities we serve, and we’re so like-minded on mission and vision. Open Door is focused on building healthier communities in the counties it does business in, and we’re right there, too, says Del Vecchio. “The willingness of both parties to come together and partner on strategies to make peoples’ lives better, improve their health and access to care, and deal with health equity issues are really important. 

According to Del Vecchio, “Our relationship with Open Door ranks right up there with the best partnerships we have. As president and chief executive officer of Open Door, Lindsay Farrell has set a great example and has built up a phenomenal organization over the past three decades she’s been there.” 

According to Farrell, “An unswerving focus on the member is the hallmark of Chris Del Vecchio’s leadership at MVP Healthcare.  So often health insurance is confusing and burdensome; yet MVP is committed to making it much easier for customers.” 

“Chris’s ability to execute on this customer promise is what makes him so effective as a chief executive of a very large company.  At the same time, Chris understands the Healthcare Value Imperative and that is why the relationship between Open Door and MVP is so strong.  Both organizations are committed to providing the right health care at the right time and reducing the barriers that get in the way.  Our partnership supports thousands of local people who depend on both organizations to get this right,” says Farrell. 

As a nationally-recognized, regional not-for-profit health plan, MVP offers a wide range of health benefit plan options and has more than 700,000 members across New York and Vermont. It is powered by the ideas and energy of more than 1,700 employees.  The company works collaboratively with more than 19,000 regional health care providers and facilities, and a national network of more than 500,000 providers,  

A full-line healthcare company, MVP offers Medicare Advantage, Dual Special Needs, Medicaid Managed Care, Health and Recovery Plans (HARP), and is on the Health Exchange. They also have insurance for small and large group employers. “We have a full portfolio of health insurance, which is unique in our footprint. As a non-for-profit, we are committed to our communities and want to do as much as we can for as many people as we can,” says Del Vecchio. 

In addition, MVP has onsite staff at select Open Door locations that help patients with health insurance enrollment and also work on administrative issues that pop up and other items that may get in the way in order to smooth out the process for members. 

Regarding the future of healthcare, Del Vecchio says, “the Covid pandemic created rapid transformation for health insurance and it disrupted many traditional norms. When we think back before, three years ago telemedicine was hardly ever used and now it’s become a mainstream modality, regardless of peoples’ ages. We have people in their 80’s hopping on Zoom calls and conducting appointments with their providers.” 

Del Vecchio says, “Bottom line, people want healthcare on demand more than ever. I think people are going for an ‘Amazon’ type experience. They want healthcare when they want it, and we’re going to have to figure out those demands with technology, tools and different ways of thinking about care,” he says. 

Del Vecchio thinks plans like MVP and organizations like the Open Door are perfectly suited to solve those challenges because they understand the local markets and are already patient-centric driven organizations. In addition, both nonprofits understand the social determinants of health collectively and know how to bring that about for Open Door patients/MVP members. “I think it’s an important time and a huge opportunity to be in healthcare right now, and it’s very exciting,” he says. 

Laura Joseph Mogil is an Open Door Foundation board member and freelance writer. 

I encouraged people in the community to take advantage of the professional services offered at Open Door. If they felt comfortable, I went with them to their first meeting.

In the 1960s, when Francine Vernon left home to attend college, she thought she had left Ossining in the rearview mirror.   

“I thought it was the most boring community,” she laughs. 

Time, however, has a way of altering perceptions.  After earning a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University in Washington D.C. and a Master’s from Hunter College, and raising her family in Manhattan, she had a change of heart.  At a time when her two older children were about to enter middle school and her youngest was starting kindergarten, she decided it was time to return home.  

It's a decision Ossining has been thankful for ever since.  

A long-time teacher and administrator in the New York City school system, and later an instructor at City University of New York, Francine was elected to the Ossining school board.  She served as the Ossining Community Action Program area director and the Westchester Community Opportunity Program education supervisor, on the Greenburgh Board of Education and the Children’s Village Board of Trustees. For more than 15 years, she has been the program coordinator for Library Youth Connections at the Westchester Library System.  

She has since become a beloved community leader – widely viewed as a model and a mentor, particularly for her work with children and their families. In 2021, Francine was named the recipient of the inaugural Hester Bateman Spencer Hines Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award, named in memory of Ossining’s first Black teacher. 

She also made an impact at Open Door.  In the mid-1980s, acutely aware of the racial divide in Ossining and the uneven playing field many children of color faced, she searched for a way to address the many social and emotional issues that existed in the community.  Open Door was receptive and hired her as its first Youth Connection coordinator.  For five years, Francine filled this role, which included serving as the liaison between the families and the professionals whose help they desperately needed.   

“I encouraged people in the community to take advantage of the professional services offered at Open Door.  If they felt comfortable, I went with them to their first meeting.” The program, she says, was successful, and became a precursor to the wraparound social and behavioral health services Open Door is known for today. She was pleased to see the health care center also begin to provide non-medical services to the community, such as in its distribution of books to children.  

“I think Open Door largely accomplished what it set out to do back then,” she says.  “I hope I helped them make a difference.” 

It’s not only about sustaining our patients’ lifestyle habits, but having them pass these lessons on to their families.

The beauty of working at Open Door, says Gina Devito, is that she can often see the difference – both short- and long-term – she makes in her patients’ lives.  

For nearly a decade, Gina has taken patients on transformational wellness journeys while working in multiple clinical and administrative roles.  This has included stints as a WIC nutritionist, Registered Dietitian, Director of Wellness Initiatives, and now WIC Director. 

“I’ve gotten to see these changes through the whole lifecycle,” says Gina.  “Not isolated changes, but greater transformations. It’s not only about sustaining our patients’ lifestyle habits, but having them pass these lessons on to their families.  This is what has been most impactful for me.” 

Take the case of one patient who faced multiple complications during her pregnancy.  Working closely with Gina, who was her dietitian, the woman started to take advantage of the various programs offered by Open Door to expectant mothers, including WIC and prenatal yoga classes.  Gina advised her on eating healthier for herself and her baby, made sure she came to appointments, and closely monitored her prenatal weight gain and blood glucose level.    

As a result, and despite her difficult pregnancy, the woman had a healthy delivery. Since then, she’s continued with the WIC program, making health and wellbeing a priority for herself and her family. Theprogram provides access to free nutrition education, referrals, breastfeeding support, counseling, and healthy foods to low-income families. 

“She’s been utilizing all of WIC’s services and has said that without Open Door support she never would have gotten where she has,” says Gina.  “Being in classes with other people facing similar challenges creates a sense of community and helps support our patients in reaching their goals and sticking with the changes made.”    

As a personal trainer and Ironman triathlete, health and wellness have long played a key role in Gina’s life.   

“Wellness and nutrition are part of my identity and my life. To be able to utilize this and directly apply my passion to my work at Open Door is everything I could ask for,” she says.  

“An integrated care model with wellness, nutrition and lifestyle changes at its core might be considered non-essential in some places.  But at Open Door, it’s an integral part of helping patients be well and healthy and prevent disease.” 

I never dreamed it would become what it has throughout the region.

Jinx Chapman is a long-time volunteer with Open Door.  She’s held fundraisers for the health center in her Briarcliff Manor home, wrapped presents for children during the holidays and served for years on the Board of Trustees.  

Over the years, she’s made many friends through her association with Open Door, which has played a big factor in her life.  And, she’s seen how much good Open Door has done over the years for Ossining, a city that had been rocked by dissent and riots and, she admits, “was a fairly scary place” back in the 1970s.

“Ossining was a mess then and I attribute a lot of where it is today to Open Door,” she says.  “I never dreamed it would become what it has throughout the region.  Marge (Griesmer) and Lindsay (Farrell) were real powerhouses and have done a fantastic job.”

Fifty years ago, as a member of the Junior League, Jinx was introduced to this fledgling medical clinic that had set up camp in the basement of the Baptist church on Main Street.  She spent many hours in those early days helping out as a “screener,” seeing patients before they met the doctor.

It was during this time that she remembers a visually impaired man, who came into the office with his service dog.  After meeting the doctor, the man left the building and crossed the street, where his dog was struck by a car. 

“The man came back in and was distraught,” he recalls.  “Fortunately, the dog wasn’t badly hurt.  The doctor treated the dog and he was fine.  It might not have even been legal, but it shows the kind of care you got from Open Door even back then.”

The caregivers at Open Door have big hearts and I can see it in the work they do. They are also very close to each other, which helps a lot…

Isabella Light says that she been impressed by the compassion, the care and, yes, the humor Open Door providers like Dr. Robert Thompson show their patients.  In particular, she remembers how the long-time Open Door family medicine practitioner treated a woman who was fighting pneumonia on top of her ongoing struggle with a serious chronic illness. 

In addition to being very weak, the patient’s fingers looked like they had been dyed.  They were so blue in fact, most likely from poor circulation, that she put them under her armpits to try to warm them.

However, by the following day, the woman was greatly improved, bantering back and forth with her doctor.

“It showed me the kind of doctor he is and the relationship he has with his patients,” she said.  “It was really eye opening.  Dr. Thompson always takes the time for them and you can see he really cares.  He also had time to explain everything to me, saying he remembers years ago when he shadowed a doctor.  He jokes with those patients he knows can take it and appreciate it.”

As part of her gap year internship with the Dominican Sisters of Hope in Ossining, Isabella spends Mondays and Tuesdays working as a volunteer at Open Door, which means doing paperwork, helping out at the reception desk, or doing pretty much whatever needs to be done.  Among the high points have been shadowing practitioners like Dr. Thompson and helping out in the Ossining health center. 

In addition to enjoying the experience of “living in the real world without going to school for the first time” and improving her Spanish, working at Open Door has allowed the Chicago native and recent Macalester College graduate to firm up her own future plans:  to apply to medical school with the goal of becoming a pediatrician or family medicine physician.   

“I find it rewarding and I want to be able to help people,” she said.  “The caregivers at Open Door have big hearts and I can see it in the work they do.  They are also very close to each other, which helps a lot.  I’ll miss it.”

I feel more secure, more confident.  Everything is connected. Maybe once I pass my exam, maybe I can come to work here at Open Door!

Open Door’s digital literacy program has given many of its patients the education, tools, resources and support to use technology to improve their health outcomes.

It’s also given people like Pamela the chance to change their lives.   

Pamela, a single mother who lives in Ossining, came to the U.S. in 1999 from Chile with her young children.  Speaking little English, she was directed to Open Door by friends and neighbors, soon becoming a regular patient of its primary care, dental and optometry services.   Her language skills quickly blossomed and she found a job caring for children at a local school.

Feeling the need to grow her computer knowledge and the desire to improve her job prospects, she enrolled in the health center’s digital literacy class.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, what’s become known as the “digital divide” has accentuated the gap between those who have access to computer devices and those who do not.  Research has shown that those with lower income, lower educational attainment and increased age are the most likely to be digitally divided from using the internet. Many of the patients served by Open Door fall into one or more of these categories.

Open’s Door’s digital literacy class provided Pamela with a Chromebook, one year of free Wi-Fi and 15 hours of computer education. The program allowed her to learn how to do everything from accessing the internet for information; to sending and receiving emails; to checking her health information on Open Door’s patient portal.

As a result of what she learned, Pamela completed an accelerated course to become a medical administrative assistant (MAA).  While continuing to work full-time, she is now studying for her official MAA certification.

“The program has provided great support.  It’s been very flexible, very understandable,” she says.  “Years ago, I was ready for a job, but the last interview was on a computer and I didn’t know how to use one.  It was a great opportunity, but I didn’t get the job.  Now, I have the skills.”

She believes what she’s learned will help her better her life – both in getting a new job and growing as a person.

“My kids are so proud of me for completing this program,” she says.  “I feel more secure, more confident.  Everything is connected. Maybe once I pass my exam, maybe I can come to work here at Open Door!”

Leadership has taken advantage of every opportunity and diverse resources to develop a comprehensive approach to building in innovation, technology and best practices to provide integrated health care.

“They always say how nice everyone at Open Door is,” says Helene Kopal, who has long worked in public health and is Director of Substance Abuse Disorders Programs at Open Door. 

Helene admits that what people often say to her when they hear she works at Open Door may, on the surface, sound somewhat superficial.

“Yet, the fact that Open Door has such a welcoming environment is a huge thing, especially for those who don’t always feel welcomed wherever they go.” 

Helene first became acquainted with Open Door in 2007, when she worked closely with Lindsay Farrell and Dr. Daren Wu on a project that evaluated the benefits of using Electronic Medical Records in the management of chronic diseases at federally qualified health centers.

She was greatly impressed by Open Door’s vision. “I could see the senior team was incredibly forward looking and set very high standards for patient care and staff performance,” she says. 

She maintained her relationship with Open Door over the years, eventually becoming Executive Director of Hudson Information Technology for Community Health (HITCH), which was created by Open Door and two other federally-qualified health centers to promote high quality care among safety-net primary care providers that enhances access to quality health care for the medically underserved in Westchester County.  Helene joined Open Door in 2019.

“Open Door has grown and matured over the years,” she says.  “Leadership has taken advantage of every opportunity and diverse resources to develop a comprehensive approach to building in innovation, technology and best practices to provide integrated health care.  This includes medical, dental, behavioral health and ‘wrap around’ services for those who often have no place else to go.  And they offer what is a human right in a respectful way.  

“The level of performance and professionalism, and quality of care really stand out. It makes me feel good to work at a place like Open Door where  the refrain I always hear is ‘We need to do whatever is right for the patient.’”

I appreciate that every service provider with whom I have interacted at Open Door is top-notch.

Our health care system is so broken, it’s shameful, but Open Door is a bright spot in a bleak landscape.

I appreciate that every service provider with whom I have interacted at Open Door is top-notch.  Dr. Thompson, the dentists I’ve seen, the support personnel and the PA I consulted for a skin concern instilled confidence that I am getting high-quality medical care. Like many men, my head has to fall off for me to seek medical help, but when I do many an appointment, I am grateful for Open Door.

In general, delivering high quality care is to be expected from most medical professionals, but your personnel go beyond the clinical by also possessing pleasant personalities. Medical offices can be cold and sterile, but my visit to Dr. Diane Suarez and her team belied that image.

Nothing out of the ordinary: I had a blotch under my eye that caused concern. The optometry team provided a battery of tests. Dr. Suarez made me feel like a patient, not a number.  We all exchanged jokes as the procedures unfolded over the 1.5 hours I spent at the clinic.  The team is professional, but personable, and that is important. Any time we can laugh on this planet, especially in such a serious setting, is time well-spent.

Kudos to Open Door. This is the way health care should be in this country, not just for me, but for all patients. Everyone deserves to receive excellent health care, but in this country, greatness is often reserved for the few.

My only suggestion: please get Dr. Suarez’ intake coordinator a bigger fan, or better yet, some better air conditioning.

Open Door cares about everything that takes place in the lives of its patients and knows how to address them.

Open Door has played a major role in Rita Luzuriaga’s young life.  

The organization first caught Rita’s eye when she was in high school, with its School-Based Health Center in Port Chester.  This was a short time after Rita emigrated here from Ecuador as a 14-year-old with Heidy, her 19-year-old sister, both speaking little English.  

Rita would later spend a summer as a college intern at Open Door, working as a coordinator for its Baby Bundle program, an initiative which provides parents with baby necessities and crucial information that give their newborns a safe and healthy start in life. Upon graduation from college at SUNY Brockport, Rita returned to Open Door as a member of AmeriCorps – again focusing on the Baby Bundle program.

 “It was so amazing to see how the program had grown and how the community was being helped,” she recalls.  “In some cases, before their mothers took part in the program, the babies had no place to sleep and were sleeping with their mothers.” 

After leaving AmeriCorps, Rita was hired by Open Door as a Patient Advocate.  She was soon promoted to Lead Prenatal Patient Advocate and, most recently, to Patient Advocate Administrator. 

Rita knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in public health.  She has long been enamored by the preventive care offered at Open Door, something that doesn’t exist in her native country. “Open Door cares about everything that takes place in the lives of its patients and knows how to address them.  I never before knew the importance of preventive care.”  

She would soon see this from a very personal perspective. “I asked my mother how she was taking care of herself and learned that she had never had a mammogram. She didn’t know she could get a mammogram without insurance. I helped her navigate the system.  We learned from the mammogram that she had breast cancer. The surgeon was amazed that we caught it so early that she didn’t need chemo or radiation.”    

Her mother is doing well today.  And it’s these experiences that have made Rita so empathetic to the struggles of her patients.  

“I feel I’m able to sympathize with patients because I know the emotional side of it and the struggles they have to encounter.  I had a patient who was diagnosed with cancer about the same time as my mom.  I was very emotional because she was going through the same thing.  The patient had no insurance. I became invested in finding resources for her from diagnosis to treatment, helping her with her immigration status and her social needs.”  

Today, Rita is finishing her Master’s degree in Public Health, while her sister, Heidy, who had worked earlier at Open Door in the wellness department, is community health director at the Rye YMCA.   

“Open Door,” she admits, “has been such a crazy story for me.” 

I always felt so sure and confident with your approaches as they were always effective. I thank you for all of the hard work that you do in your role at Open Door.
A letter from an Open Door Patient

Dear Dr. Chen and others at Open Door,

Always wishing you the best and I hope everything is good with you. Unfortunately my health has gotten worse, my body is retaining water, and I still have problems with my legs. Since being here, I have been to the hospital twice and am undergoing treatments.

I feel lucky and am grateful for these services where I am now, but I miss you a lot too. While my age is catching up to me, thank the lord I have reached the age I have and for having you as my doctor.

I always felt so sure and confident with your approaches as they were always effective. I thank you for all of the hard work that you do in your role at Open Door. I will always appreciate your patience and for taking the time to answer all of my questions.

Please visit me in Tampa whenever you want. Where I am at in this nursing home community, there are many people who need a lot of help and would benefit from the services you and Open Door provide.

I wish this letter makes it into your professional portfolio and that you share it with others. Also, I give thanks to you, your work and your family.

God bless you always,

Nery Esther Olivie

What began as a fledgling answer to a real problem has become so much bigger. It’s served the community very well.

In 1974, Sister Veronica Miller, a public health nurse with the Dominican Sisters of Hope, moved to Ossining.  She soon became friendly with a neighbor, Marge Griesmer. 

Over the next several years, before moving out of Westchester to take on other duties for her ministry in places like Harlem, the south Bronx and Jersey City, Sister Veronica became actively involved in Marge’s visionary project, which would become the Open Door Family Medical Center.  Marge thought so highly of Sister Veronica that she asked her to become a member of the organization’s first Board of Trustees. She agreed.

“Back then physicians in Ossining would not accept pregnant women on Medicaid and all pregnant women with this insurance had to go to Westchester Medical Center for prenatal care,” says Sister Veronica.  “Open Door started by caring for these women.”

She remembers Open Door’s humble beginnings, a time when the free clinic’s two volunteer doctors and two nurses initially saw patients in the basement of the First Baptist Church in Ossining.  Open Door would soon take over the old Hilliker’s Department Store at 165 Main Street, a site that nearly a half century later remains one of its patient locations. 

“The waiting room was situated in a small space between two doors, two steps off the ground floor, and there were a couple of exam rooms for pregnant women and well-baby care,” she says.  “I remember looking at the initial plans and trying to think about how to put a clinic in there.  The upstairs hadn’t been touched yet.  It was all so very rudimentary.”

Open Door’s philosophy fit closely with Sister Veronica’s mission – to provide quality medical care for an underserved population that had long been marginalized.  Over the years, as a nurse and administrator, she has worked for organizations ranging from Head Start in New York City to the York Street Project in Jersey City, a transitional housing residence for homeless women and children.

 “It’s a credit to Open Door that it has grown so far and so well since then,” she says. “What began as a fledgling answer to a real problem has become so much bigger. It’s served the community very well.”

Now retired and once again living in Westchester, Sister Veronica has used Open Door centers in Ossining and Port Chester for her own primary care needs.

“Open Door was a real boon in the 1970s, when there weren’t places for the poor, and it continues to be.  It’s always provided first-class medical care, not just something that was thrown together for the poor.  Marge’s initial vision has made a difference in so many lives.  I’m so proud to have known it back then.”

My time spent volunteering at Open Door has been absolutely fulfilling.

My time spent volunteering at Open Door has been absolutely fulfilling. While volunteering for the Baby Box program, Jane Levy told me about Reach Out and Read. It is a great fit because I am a retired K-1 teacher. I started volunteering in Port Chester in 2019. Then COVID hit. I really missed being with the children and began volunteering again when the program re-started this winter.

What I love, even when I can’t read with a child, is sharing “book looks” and seeing their excitement when they find the book that clicks. It is so gratifying.

I am looking forward to a long involvement with Open Door. Thank you for the opportunity!