Letters to the Editor – June 15, 2021

When it’s truly important to have a medical practice in town
When I worked at the Charlotte Family Health Center (CFHC) in the late ‘70s/early’80s, a woman came in around lunch time one day, bringing her husband. He had been working alone in the woods when a dead tree that had been hung up against another tree broke loose, fell on his head and knocked him unconscious. When he woke up, he went home, told his wife and declared that he felt fine, but his wife decided to bring him immediately to the office.

He didn’t want to come, kept protesting that he felt fine, didn’t need to be seen, etc. His physical exam turned out to be entirely normal except for his inability to control the descent of his left arm when it was raised into the air. Clearly there was damage to the nerve that controlled that arm. It required further investigation, and I called for the ambulance to take him to the medical center in Burlington.

The patient argued and complained—if he had to go to Burlington his wife could drive him. With some difficulty, we got him, complaining all the way, into the ambulance. By the time the ambulance reached Burlington, he was unconscious. He was rushed into surgery where a torn blood vessel under his skull was repaired and the bleeding stopped. He was lucky—if his wife had had to go looking for a doctor in another village, the wasted time might have made things considerably worse.

Having a medical practice right here in town is definitely convenient, but when it’s important, then it’s truly important. It’s not often that a doctor actually gets to save a life, and I look back with gratitude that I was given the opportunity. That man and I have never spoken of that incident, though I see him occasionally around town—it’s quite possible that he has no memory of it.

Valerie Graham, M.D.
The Charlotte Family Health Center and the Zoning Board

A historical perspective
With a few associates, I founded the Charlotte Family Health Center in 1975. We took over from Dr. Ed Crane, who was leaving private practice to rejoin the Air Force. He was more than happy to find a replacement, and he leased us his office building on Old Route 7 along with his equipment. We practiced family medicine there until 1982, when he decided to turn the building over to a family member. We needed to find a new space.

Many in town offered helpful suggestions, and eventually we settled on a small farmhouse on Ferry Road. Here is where we got to meet the Planning Commission. The new office space was in a part of town zoned for residential use, and, according to the regulations at the time, the only commercial activities allowed were home industries and small farm stands.

Relative to the process as it seems to be in Charlotte today, the meeting in 1982 provides an interesting comparison. We had no lawyer and didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, the process was a quick one. One member said, “We don’t care where you go, as long as you don’t leave town.” In short order, the commission decided to consider the Health Center as a home industry and allow its new location as a conditional use.

Eventually, rules would change to allow health centers as a conditional use in the residential district. And eventually, it seems, the planning process would change from “We want your business or service in town. What can we do to help you?” to the long, onerous and expensive process we see today.

Much has changed in Charlotte, and I suppose much has changed with the practice of medicine. We prided ourselves being available for same-day appointments and never made people wait more than a few days for semi-urgent problems. We returned phone calls. We were available during off hours. We answered questions and handled many emergencies locally. Insurance company data showed the rate of emergency department visits by our patients to be among the lowest in the state.

Today, with high overhead costs imposed by the administrative necessities of managing electronic health records, small, personal community health centers are becoming increasingly scarce. To my way of thinking, this is an unfortunate loss. I would hope the Town of Charlotte does not lose its health center because of unwarranted dithering.

Richard H. Bernstein, M.D.
Physician, Charlotte Family Health Center 1975-2013

A Pastoral Statement in Support of Clemmons Family Farm
As authorized ministers in the United Church of Christ we were alarmed and saddened to learn of the Vermont Human Rights Commission’s recent determination that Dr. Lydia Clemmons of the Clemmons Family farm was illegally discriminated against by the Vermont State Police based on race and gender.* We write today:

  • compelled by our Christian faith to be witnesses against injustice in all its forms;
  • to state our support of Dr. Clemmons and the Clemmons Family Farm, and to condemn the discrimination and threats to which they have been, and are being, subjected;
  • to acknowledge our own privilege and failures as we recommit to doing better;
    to offer our training as pastors to facilitate dialogue and actions that we pray would enable transformation in this community that we love;
  • to encourage our elected officials, other leaders, and all in our wider community to commit themselves to examining the ancient and pervasive systems of injustice;
  • to pray that the Vermont Human Rights Commission Report will be a doorway, not to division and harm, but to learning, growth, deeper relationships and healing; firmly committed to partner with anyone who wants to work with us toward a world without discrimination.

Pastor Abigail Diehl-Noble
Rev. Susan Cooke Kittredge
Rev. Kevin Eric Mills Goldenbogen

*read The Charlotte News article here.

In support of Lydia Clemmons
I am writing in support of Dr. Lydia Clemmons, the Clemmons family and the Clemmons Family Farm. They have long been valued members of the Charlotte community. For their credibility to be dismissed in the vandalism and harassment case at their farm is reflective of the inherent bias of our social structure.

The facts are clear: A person paying a rental deposit with $1,000 in silver coins, which Dr. Clemmons reported to the VT State Police (VSP) with due diligence as suspicious, was given the benefit of the doubt by law officers, despite the fact that the person was under indictment for stealing $27,000 in silver coins from his previous landlord in Windsor County.

This fact was known, yet the VSP officers treated the matter as a landlord-tenant dispute. The subsequent harassment of Dr. Clemmons by the offender and the failure of the law enforcement system to respond effectively demonstrate critical flaws throughout the justice system. These flaws were enhanced by a biased attitude in the treatment of Dr. Clemmons as described in the Human Rights Commission report. They reflect a tendency of police to dismiss the experiences and statements of people of color that we have been hearing all too often in testimony before the Legislature.

These flaws must be fixed. The tendency toward biased treatment of an individual influenced by gender and race must be corrected with appropriate training in unbiased policing. Furthermore, conditions of release for indicted individuals must be enforced throughout Vermont, regardless of the county in which the charges were brought. The Legislature will continue to address these deficiencies to improve racial equity in Vermont.

It is the obligation for all of us to examine how white privilege acts to blind us to the systemic racism that permeates our social structure and to commit to replace it with genuine equity in our justice system, in our culture and in our own lives.

Rep. Mike Yantachka
Charlotte-Hinesburg (Chit 4-1) District
House Energy & Technology Committee
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(802) 233-5238