Pandemic All-Star: Julia Doucet, Open Door Clinic Outreach Nurse, Middlebury | Health Care | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Pandemic All-Star: Julia Doucet, Open Door Clinic Outreach Nurse, Middlebury

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Julia DoucetOpen Door Clinic outreach nurse, Middlebury - CALEB KENNA
  • Caleb Kenna
  • Julia DoucetOpen Door Clinic outreach nurse, Middlebury

Julia Doucet of Middlebury's Open Door Clinic had just vaccinated two workers on an Addison County dairy farm last month when she spied another one a short distance away, walking toward an outbuilding.

"Don't you want the COVID vaccine?" Doucet called out in Spanish. "Why not, right?" she nudged gently. The man paused and approached the folding table set up within view of a cow peeking out of the barn.

"Perfecto!" Doucet said with a warm smile.

The owner, who requested that the farm not be identified, also got a shot. He watched incredulously as his employee rolled up a sleeve. "He was totally against getting it," he said.

When the worker was asked, via clinic educator Magdalena Deloya, what changed his mind, he replied that he trusts the Open Door Clinic. "He feels better that we are here," Deloya translated.

"That's what giving the vaccinations is all about: being in the right place at the right time," Doucet said. When there are extra doses, she said as she packed up, she drops into local businesses and offers them to employees.

Since 1990, the nonprofit Open Door Clinic has provided free health care for uninsured and underinsured Addison County residents. About 50 percent of its current patients are migrant farmworkers, many from Mexico.

Due to transportation and other barriers, it can be difficult for them to get to the clinic's Middlebury or Vergennes locations. Doucet has been the outreach nurse for a decade, cultivating relationships that ease the way for on-farm preventative care. She couldn't have anticipated that work would facilitate providing critical care during a pandemic.

Doucet, 50, came to nursing later in life and has only ever worked for the Open Door Clinic. After she had her first child, she left a career in outdoor education and travel, including leading sea kayak tours in Mexico. Doucet vividly remembers being home with her three kids and listening to a Vermont Public Radio story about Spanish-speaking migrant workers.

She loved speaking Spanish, and working with the farmworker population in her own county appealed. "I like to be outside, and I like building relationships," Doucet said. "I have a public health/community health nurse hat that I wear. It feels right."

For the first few months of the pandemic, it was almost eerily quiet. Doucet took the clinic cellphone home on nights and weekends so farmworkers could reach out via an internet-based messaging app. Few have cell service, she explained.

As lockdown eased, Doucet and her team assembled kits with ibuprofen, masks, hand sanitizer, thermometers and information about COVID-19 symptoms and delivered them to 47 farms.

"We dropped them off and spoke to workers outside, masked up, about what was going on, just saying, 'We're here,'" she recalled.

Things were going well until mid-February, when a patient canceled an appointment due to a sore throat. "We went out and tested him, and he was positive," Doucet said.

The virus spread quickly through the county's farms, resulting in 67 cases. Doucet's team delivered supplies, administered tests, explained quarantine requirements and helped with contact tracing. No one was hospitalized, but, she said, "Some were sick enough that they couldn't work — which is very sick."

In mid-March, the clinic launched its traveling vaccine operation with support from Moira Cook, district director of the Department of Health in Addison County. Doucet and her team have since administered almost 1,100 vaccines at 57 farms.

Cook said state data show that 95 percent of the county's residents who identify as Hispanic — 673 people — had received at least one vaccine dose as of May 21, versus 70 percent of non-Hispanics.

That success, Cook said, is due to Doucet's long-standing relationships with farmers and farmworkers: "Everyone trusts she has their best interests at heart."

During three farm visits in mid-May, Doucet joked easily in Spanish and English. She plied them with chocolate, explained potential vaccine side effects, and left packages of tea and honey.

At Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, co-owner Danielle Goodrich said the clinic visits "give us a huge sense of security. It's really important to know that there are people who care about our employees."

After receiving her second dose, Goodrich farmworker Rosalba de la Cruz said through a translator, "I was afraid, very nervous," about COVID-19. "We are very grateful for the clinic. They are always reaching out to us."

Editor note: To choose Vermont's Pandemic All-Stars, we surveyed our readers on the people, places and programs that kept them going — and going — during the COVID-19 pandemic. Space limitations prevented us from recognizing every pick worthy of public praise.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Farming Out Health Care"