This story illuminates the critical role that Open Door plays in providing Vermonters – regardless of their lack of insurance, inadequate healthcare coverage, or citizenship status – with access to life-changing, life-saving health care.
Open Door Clinic
Middlebury and Vergennes, Vermont
(NOTE: The following is a compelling letter written by Stephanie*, a patient and volunteer with Open Door Clinic. It illuminates the critical role that Open Door plays in providing Vermonters – regardless of their lack of insurance, inadequate healthcare coverage, or citizenship status – with access to life-changing, life-saving health care. Stephanie agreed to have the letter shared with her neighbors as part of Open Door’s annual fundraising appeal this past year.)
I am an uninsured Vermonter, having fallen through the cracks of a patchwork healthcare system. In fall 2017, I was offered full-time employment at a company that provides a healthcare stipend, making me ineligible for subsidies through the marketplace. However, the stipend is too little to make even the cheapest premiums and copays affordable. Although I have preexisting conditions that require physical therapy and prescriptions to manage, I made the choice in December 2017 to give up my Medicaid coverage and pursue full-time employment. I love my job and am proud of the work that I do. Losing access to health care was the only major downside to taking this position.
By October 2018, I was cutting pills in half and preparing to wean myself from my prescription medication. The last endocrinologist I saw in December 2017 gave me a list of warning signs that would indicate my condition was worsening. The only major concern I had was rapid weight gain (10 pounds over the course of a month) without changes to my diet. That was one of the warning signs, but I planned to see what would happen once I completely stopped taking my medication before going to a doctor. I posted on an online forum asking for advice, hoping to hear from a physician, but got no response. Horror stories about the astronomical costs of health care for the uninsured kept me from calling previous doctors, and I just unbuttoned my jeans.
One Sunday that October, I was attending a church service and heard a talk about ways Vermonters can help migrant farmworkers in our community. I’d been looking for a more concrete way to help both locally and nationally marginalized groups. I gave the speaker my phone number and found myself at the Open Door Clinic in Vergennes ten days later, preparing to pick up three farmworkers from a group therapy meeting. Having never studied Spanish, I practiced saying “Hola, ¿cómo estás?” and “No comprendo” a few times on the way to the clinic.
Before giving the ride that night, I didn’t even know the clinic existed in Addison County. A couple of people had told me about a “free doctor” near Porter Hospital that I could go to if I fell ill, but I hadn’t felt right about using those resources and never looked into it further. I didn’t realize the satellite clinic in Vergennes was the same “free doctor” – I thought it was a meeting space specifically for migrant farmworkers.
When I walked in, I met one of the nurses at the clinic. The space looked more like a doctor’s office, so on a whim, I asked her if she knew about any resources for uninsured American citizens looking for health care. She asked me a few questions about my medical history and then told me that Open Door was a free health clinic meant for everyone; citizenship was irrelevant. I was shocked when she told me that receiving care at the clinic was free, and even more shocked when she offered to have a doctor see me to refill my prescription while I waited for the workers’ meeting to end.
I filled out the paperwork and, within half an hour, was talking to an actual doctor. I walked out that night with a year’s prescription for the medication I had been prescribed in 2017, plus an additional medication that the doctor thought might help with the weight gain. I paid nothing for the office visit – I only had to cover the cost of the prescriptions. The nurse gave me information about several pharmacies and a voucher that would help lower the cost of the medicine. I felt like I hit the jackpot.
I did hit the jackpot.
It’s been just under eight months since that first evening. I’ve been to the clinic again for a physical required by my job (one of the most in-depth physicals I’ve ever had), and even received a vaccine that was overdue. I’ve had blood work taken to confirm that my preexisting condition is not worsening. I have an appointment for gynecological services in the fall. I never thought I would have access to this type of care – it was part of the tradeoff of taking my job.
I’ve taken many of our farmworker neighbors to clinic appointments – both in Middlebury and Vergennes – and to dentists, optometrists, and other specialists in the area on referrals from Open Door. I’ve watched them experience the same relief I felt from having access to health care. I’ve been learning Spanish and hope to eventually be skilled enough to serve as an interpreter at the clinic. Right now, I can’t give back financially, and I feel a deep need to serve this place that helps so many.
I want you to know that this community, our community, has created a resource that has changed my life. Everything from my sleep quality to my ability to have children is affected by the medication I am taking daily because of Open Door. Your donations – and the incredible gift of time given by the volunteer staff, medical and clerical, at the clinic – have a direct and measurable impact on your neighbors.
When I’m healthier, I can do my job better, and I can be a better member of our community. I’m healthier because of Open Door Clinic. I am deeply grateful.
Your Neighbor Stephanie
* The patient’s name has been changed to respect privacy, protect identity, and assure confidentiality.