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Tracy, Open Door Clinic

Written by Katy Canada

Tracy Salisbury is a giver. She established herself as such at a young age when she donated all her toys and clothes to a friend who had none. When her mother happened upon Salisbury's empty closet, she scolded her, not because she disapproved, but because she didn't have any money to replace the missing items.

Now, as the executive director of Alamance County's Open Door Clinic, Salisbury devotes her time and gifts to people every day. The clinic serves the indigent and uninsured in Alamance County at no cost. Funded through grants, donations and volunteers, this nonprofit agency reduces costs for the community and provides healthcare for those who otherwise couldn't afford it.

The majority of the patients the clinic treats suffer from asthma, COPD, diabetes or hypertension. In 2013, 85 percent of patients were treated for some sort of chronic illness. The Open Door Clinic also covers the cost of prescription medication for its patients.

"If the patients can't afford their medications, then we're not doing them much good," Salisbury said. "We also have an eye clinic that's open two days per week, so we pay for people's glasses as well."

But patients at the Open Door Clinic face several obstacles apart from obtaining their medications. Lack of transportation to and from the clinic can prevent them from receiving treatment. Patients with health issues that require specialized treatment are referred to the hospital at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Transportation can be an issue getting from home to here, much less to Chapel Hill," Salisbury said.

Access to proper nutrition is also a dominant issue of the Open Door Clinic patients. Program assistant Lori Holt said hunger is a problem she sees regularly.

"I see one gentleman, and every time I pick up his chart, I think about how he can only afford to eat one meal per day," Holt said. "It happens often."

Salisbury speculates that pride stands in the way of pursuing food stamps or other courses of action that could alleviate this problem. For her, it's a heartbreaking reality that she seeks to improve through the Open Door Clinic.

Salisbury values patient contact above all else in her profession. The connections and bonds she forms with patients at the clinic make the job special for her.

"I love what I do. I feel like I'm helping people," she said. "I love talking to the people and hearing their stories. They have the exact same needs as the rest of us."

In 2013, the Open Door Clinic treated approximately 600 patients and administered more than 2,500 office visits.

A large portion of the clinic patients are former mill workers from Alamance County. They are now unemployed, uninsured and uneducated. When they have nowhere else to turn, the Clinic opens its doors and tunes out the judgments that society has a way of dishing out.

"You hear people say, 'Well, if they would just get a job.' But it's not that simple," Salisbury said. "Some people grew up in the situation of having to use public assistance, and they don't know any better. They're just surviving."