By Lindsay Emery
When Andrea Ruggiero and Grace Battaglia first came to the United States from Ecuador as children in the early 1990s, like so many area immigrants their medical needs were taken care of at Open Door Family Medical Center in Ossining.
Today, the two sisters work at Open Door, helping the next generation of new arrivals with their health care services.
Open Door operates six offices in Westchester, Putnam and Ulster counties, including locations in Mount Kisco, Sleepy Hollow and Ossining. There are also seven school-based health centers in the Port Chester and Ossining school districts, a mobile dental van in Mount Kisco and a new dental practice in Saugerties.
There are board-certified physicians that have chosen to provide services at Open Door because of its mission.
“We have a lot of pride when we say we work at Open Door because we understand that we’re part of something that is, that it’s really about a national initiative to make sure that we’re impacting people’s lives so that they can be healthier, so that they can stay productive, so they can keep working, so they can stay in the communities and give back,” said Battaglia, who is director of marketing for Open Door.
Ruggiero, who serves as vice president of community health and has worked at Open Door for the past 15 years, said helping the next generation of immigrants is something they have always felt passionate about.
“That American dream ends up having an exponential effect so that it’s not just about the individual and him or herself, it’s about everybody that comes after that and everybody else that’s going to benefit after that,” Battaglia said.
They arrived in the United States when Andrea was eight years old and Grace was five, living with their parents and other relatives in a small apartment above a bicycle store in Chappaqua.
“They really made it a priority that we lived in a town with one of the best school districts, even though there were challenges because the rent may have been higher and the family had to share a bedroom,” Battaglia said.
Ruggiero said Open Door is rebuilding and strengthening the communities it serves since everyone is affected by health care. When evaluating whether to launch a new health center, a community-needs assessment is conducted to make sure that the service is needed, she said.
Years ago, the Mount Kisco location was opened because there were pockets of poverty and the recent immigrants needed help.
Mount Kisco’s diversity also brings opportunities, Ruggiero said.
“I really have incredible memories of the way we were treated with such dignity and respect,” Ruggiero said. “I have really wonderful, incredible memories of life in Westchester County.”
There have been a number of support services added since when Ruggiero and Battaglia were children. There is greater emphasis on servicing the entire family and giving greater overall wellness education to patients, Battaglia said.
Their personal stories have made it easier to explain Open Door’s services to today’s patients. The kinship they feel with their patients is why their jobs have been so rewarding.
Ruggiero and Battaglia said strength and education are crucial to the newer immigrants’ success.
“It’s about what you do with those opportunities and that you don’t give up and that you continue to always see what your goals are and continue reaching for them,” Battaglia said.
Ruggiero said Open Door will continue to help with health equity through programs that focus on teaching patients how to manage their care.
“We’re here to serve everyone and I think that’s important,” she said.