Dr. Mark Yorra’s gift is health care for all

When I spoke to Mark Yorra and asked him how he got started volunteering, I got a story I did not expect.

Dr. Yorra has been a primary care doctor in the Barre area since 1980, and has helped lots of patients over the years. But it was one special patient who helped him and our entire community in ways that are still unfolding through his work at the People’s Health & Wellness Clinic in Barre. The community’s only clinic for those without insurance, People’s Health & Wellness has been serving individuals since 2014. They have offered dental care, as well.

In the 1980s, Yorra saw that a lot of people in the community who did not have insurance were being left without care and without options. While he saw the problems and thought that everyone should have access to health care, he did not begin to see himself as part of the solution until a patient of his showed him exactly how he much he could do.

Anna Bloom, a Brooklyn native and longtime central Vermont resident who passed away in 2014, was an activist at heart. She would go to her appointments with Yorra and chastise him for not doing more.

“She motivated me to do something. She would sit there and say, “It’s a disgrace in a country this rich that people don’t have health care. How can you let this happen?” And that really impacted me.” Yorra recalled. “Anna said that enough times that I started to look for ways to do something to help those people in our community without health care.”

Eventually, Yorra found a group of like-minded people, including Edie Kent, Faeterri Silver, and other doctors at Central Vermont Hospital (now CVMC) who wanted to help those in the community who did not have health insurance and needed care. They got together to form the People’s Action for Health Care group, now People’s Health & Wellness Clinic, in the spring of 1993. Soon after the group formed they were offered space in the McFarland building in Barre to set up the first clinic.

In the beginning, they served people two evening sessions a week, Yorra acting as a volunteer on the clinical staff and on the board as a founder of the organization. He worked with his peers at the hospital to recruit doctors and nurses to volunteer at the clinic. “In those years I’m sure that half or more of the CVH staff helped in one way or another at the clinic,” Yorra said.

Yorra was busy in those early years getting the organization on solid footing, seeing patients, recruiting volunteer staff, and keeping the clinic stocked and running. “Administration is a role that I was least skilled at. I am much better and more interested in seeing patients and the clinical aspects of the organization. For me, it is about building relationships, helping people figure things out, working with the nurses to problem-solve. I’m about to retire from my practice, but I will continue to volunteer at People’s Health & Wellness Clinic.”

In reflecting on his experience as a volunteer over the past three decades, Yorra offered that, “Volunteering, no matter what you do, it gives back to you as much as it gives to the people you are helping. Being a positive, helpful force in the community is important, because what would our community be without that?”

The work of the People’s Health & Wellness Clinic continues to serve those in our community without insurance, and though access to insurance has increased, there are still those who do not have health or dental coverage. Their services are still much-needed and well used. If you are interested in learning more about their work, go to their website at www.phwcvt.org.

This United Way Volunteer of the Month, is compiled by the Green Mountain United Way and features local volunteers whose work benefits groups partner with or are supported by Green Mountain United Way. For more information, go to www.gmunitedway.org

Originally featured in the 10/10/2017 edition of the Times Argus, reprinted here with permission.

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