By Vicki de Vries
How many times does someone walk into a health-care facility right after a movie has just been filmed there? Not very often, but that’s exactly what happened when this Inside Chappaqua writer recently visited the Open Door Family Medical Center in Mount Kisco.
The Mount Kisco office, which opened in 2005, has three physicians, several nurse practitioners and health advocates who work one-on-one with patients, helping them to manage their health-care needs and goals. About 4,500 patients annually come through its “open doors” with approximately 15,000 visits.
People are surprised to learn that the Open Door in Mount Kisco began as an outpatient health center for two years at Northern Westchester Hospital until it moved to its present location on W. Main Street.
Rewind: the stars of the movie?
Actual patients who have benefited from Open Door’s generous policy of working with people regardless of their economic situation. Director of Development Desta Lakew explained the background on one woman in particular:
Patient X had recently lost her job and thus her health insurance. When diagnosed with cancer, she was distraught until she heard about Open Door. Could the center help her? Now, Patient X is grateful to Open Door, just like the thousands of people this community health center has helped through the years–41 to be exact.
Started by volunteers in the basement of First Baptist Church of Ossining, Open Door eventually moved to its current Ossining headquarters and expanded to four branch offices: Mount Kisco, Port Chester, Sleepy Hollow, and in early 2013, Brewster, which will be the first federally qualified health facility of its kind in Putnam Country. Five school-based health centers are also maintained in the Port Chester school district. All told, over 43,000 patients are currently served in the Open Door network, adding up to almost 200,000 patient visits a year. As a nonprofit facility, Open Door provides primary health care services that include family medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, dental and social services.
How is that so different from other community health centers? “Open Door is federally qualified,” said Lakew, “meaning that it serves people in high need communities.”
About 60% of its patients are women and children, while some 50% are uninsured when they come to Open Door. Ninety percent of the patients come from households making less than $40K per year.
Thanks to its community-based, patient-directed focus, Open Door plays a crucial role in the communities it serves. During the current economic slow-down, being able to secure health care has been a literal lifeline for the uninsured and newly jobless people. The fact that patient fees are set according to the ability to pay has helped many single mothers and working families.
A Critical Buffer
“There’s nothing more gratifying than to see how Open Door makes a difference in the lives of families with limited resources who face the difficult decision to delay basic health care needs,” said Lakew. With this type of buffer, Open Door patients do not feel the need to seek medical care in hospital emergency rooms, which are costly and often inappropriate. In addition to its comprehensive primary health care services, Open Door provides supportive services such as health education, language translation, and transportation for patients.
Open Door is governed by a community board, 51% of which is composed of actual patients who represent the people served and help to ensure quality healthcare. Furthermore, Open Door meets all performance and accountability requirements that govern administrative, clinical, and financial operations.
“We’ve made incredibly smart decisions in terms of how we manage our practice and provide excellent care to our patients,” said Lakew, who started working at Open Door as director of marketing and outreach. For example, “We’ve embraced electronic medical record technology, which has truly allowed us to not only serve our patients better but also to provide the right care at the right time.”
Little wonder that Open Door was awarded the 2010 Nicolas Davies Award for Community Health by the international Healthcare Information Management Systems Society for the center’s pioneering work in clinical decision support/analytics. Then, in November, Open Door won the 2012 New York Community-New York Magazine Nonprofit Excellence Award for its outstanding management practices. Open Door has the distinction of being the first Westchester nonprofit to win this award.
And recently, the NCQA Diabetes Recognition Program praised Open Door for its use of “evidence-based measures” to provide excellent care to their patients with diabetes.
Lakew also gives high praise to Open Door’s current president Lindsay Farrell: “Lindsay is a visionary leader who has guided Open Door to its phenomenal success.” Farrell has innovated with professional skill and personal passion.
Of course, part of Open Door’s success can also be attributed to the volunteers that have been attracted to its mission over the years. While its dedicated medical providers are on staff and salaried, Open Door depends on volunteers to play important roles on a daily basis. Many volunteers keep an eye on children in the waiting rooms as part of the Reach Out and Read early childhood literacy program, while other volunteers advocate for health center funding.
Every other year, Open Door Foundation, the fund-raising arm that accepts contributions on behalf of Open Door Family Medical Centers, sponsors a major concert at the Performing Arts Center in Purchase, NY. In 2012, the star attraction was Crosby, Stills and Nash, while earlier performers have included Joan Osbourne and Elvis Costello. The concerts typically attracts upwards of 1400 people. Stay tuned for the next one slated in the spring of 2014.
Without a doubt, Open Door provides “true value” for its patients, providers and the community. Undergirding that value is “seeing that what we’re doing benefits so many people,” said Lakew.
That is, after all, the greatest gift Open Door offers and, with continued funding, will continue to offer.
Vicki de Vries is a writer, editor, and educator living in Westchester “country.”