In 1985, Dr. Donald T. Lucey, a retired urologist, started the Open Door Clinic, the state’s first free and charitable clinic. Looking back, he told the DukeMed Alumni News Spring 2003 publication, that at the time he believed the country’s healthcare system was broken. One third of the national population was without basic medical care and 11 percent of North Carolina’s population had no health insurance. Dr. Lucey spent his time traveling as a volunteer doctor, helping communities start clinics. The new Open Door Clinic was staffed entirely by approximately 200 volunteers, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, receptionists, record clerks, lab techs and dentists.
Consider the story of Carson Raynor, an Open Door Clinic patient in 1986. Carson was without work, had no health insurance and had used up all his blood pressure medications. He was staying at The Ark, a local shelter. When he arrived at the clinic, his blood pressure was 160/98. His physician was able to lower his blood pressure to 120/82.
In 2005, Ida was on her husband Jim’s insurance policy because her job did not provide health insurance to full-time employees. Unfortunately, Jim had fallen ill and lost his job, leaving Ida without insurance as a result. She had to turn to the clinic to continue treatment for her hypertension. During a mammogram, her clinic physician found a breast lump and followed with chemotherapy. Ida was soon after cancer-free and found a new job with full health benefits.
The new clinic in 1985 saw roughly 15-20 patients one day per week. Today, the Open Door Clinic serves more than 1,300 uninsured adults, and filled more than 39,000 prescriptions during 2020-2021. In addition to primary care appointments, the clinic offers curbside prescription pick-ups, diabetes education, mental health counseling and vaccinations.
Decades later, Urban Ministries of Wake County’s Open Door Clinic is still fulfilling the vision and mission of Dr. Lucey.
“There are community health centers out there-a hodgepodge of structures that serve different populations like maybe migrant workers or the homeless or Hispanics. But that can still leave a lot of people out, he said in the DukeMed article. “There are so many uninsured families these days. So at our free clinic, we catch everybody that doesn’t belong anywhere else. There are gaps on the system, so we created the Open Door Clinic to fill the gap.”