Walk into Dr. Maya Hambright’s house and you get an immediate sense of home and family. Maya has invited me over for Sunday morning breakfast that her daughters Vanya 12, and Greta, 17 are preparing, consisting of chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, orange juice and coffee. While her daughters are preparing the breakfast they are in constant conversation with their mother about what syrup to use, do we put the chocolate chips in before or after we make the batter? and where is the orange juice? Living so close to town Maya tells me, “it’s the blessing and the curse.” The blessing being so easy to walk to town. The curse is having a close proximity to the heroin problem in town. Maya is passionate about what she does and it comes from the depth of experience of being a mother protecting her children, and all of our children at the same time.
Maya recently stepped into some pretty big shoes to fill in the community. Dr. Randy Rissman, who retired at the end of 2015, an was the founder and medical director of Maverick Family Practice, now owned by HealthQuest. Rissman practiced in Woodstock for a little over 34 years and was more than your typical Doctor. “I think his patients, they really adore him and he is such a big part of people’s lives,” Maya says. “Randy and I had talked about working together for years…but there was never a discussion of me taking up where he left off. I think that philosophically he and I come from the same place in terms of patient care and our involvement with our patients. To think I haven’t worked in Woodstock and I’ve lived here for 15 years. I had expected that there was going to be a lot more resistance to traditional doctors and what Randy did was enable people to trust the system. I can’t replace him but I do think I’ll be able to come in where he left off. I love being in the community because I’ve been on the outside looking in. With all of this other stuff that I’m doing, I’m excited.”
Maya comes from a family of community minded parents. “My father was a chemistry professor at Howard University and my mother was a high school social worker in Alexandria, Virginia. I grew up in Washington D.C. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a doctor. When I was in college I was a political science major. I finished all of my credits early.” Hanging out with some friends at an all-night cafe, Maya met a very special friend who inspired her greatly. “He was passionately into chemistry and he would be studying these chemistry books all night. He was so into it, he just loved it and so I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do but I did know that I wanted to love what I do,” she says. After graduating Howard University, where she took premed courses, she went to Rush College in Chicago for her medical degree.
“I came from a family of teachers and I also wanted to put a legitimacy to it. Being a doctor was taking a step beyond. My parents were…first generation college graduates.”
Leaving Howard, Maya was looking for a residency program to her liking. “My mom lives up here. I was looking for a residency program and my mom said ‘What about Kingston Hospital?’ What the hell is Kingston Hospital?” she says. “Kingston Hospital ran a program that was exactly what I wanted to do, they ran an unopposed program, which means there are no other residents in the hospital. I wanted to do primary care so you really want to be the only residents around so you get to do the deliveries and the surgeries. In bigger hospitals in bigger cities primary care is sort of pushed to the side so all of the other residents can get their time in. Kingston was just perfect for me.”
It wasn’t too long after Kingston that Maya was working for the Institute for Family Health in Ellenville as well as working at Samaritan Village in Ellenville, a six-to-nine month in house treatment program for substance abuse. “It was really to run the medical clinic there,” she says. “After doing this for four or five years, my own kids were growing up, and I began noticing on people’s charts where they were from. It started to hit home when they were from Saugerties, Woodstock and Kingston. And then one of the local kids one day at Samaritan Village and I were talking and I remember him saying, ‘Oh, I live in Woodstock.’ Whatever happens here I wouldn’t bring it home. This is your privacy. And then the next weekend his brother slept over here,” at Maya’s house, “because he happened to be a friend of my daughters. That’s when everything just clicked. It was so close to home and it took it from something that I was just kind of doing to something that I became really passionate about.”
Maya has found herself increasingly involved with the continuing heroin problems in Woodstock. She is not only involved in The Route 212 Coalition, a community based coalition bridging the gap in substance abuse services throughout Ulster County, (“Shayna Micucci and Kasandra Quednau are amazing. They should be paid for what they are doing”) she is also planning a Café for recovering addicts with Misty Lucas, a long time Woodstocker who has owned and operated Chez Grand Mere’ and Misty’s On the Green. “It will be called Lost and Found Café, a Café that is going to employ and train people coming out of recovery. It is in the planning stages now.”
Splitting her time between HealthQuest’s Woodstock and Boiceville offices, Maya still works with Samaritan Village two days a week. If that wasn’t enough she has also been involved with Kingston’s O+ Festival, a three-day, community-run celebration of music and the arts in which participating artists exchange their contributions for health care services from art-loving doctors, dentists, and other wellness providers at the O+ Clinic. She will be involved again this year. “I love what O-Positive represents and what it does,” Maya is noted as saying on the festival’s website. This year’s festival is in its sixth year and will be held in Kingston on October 7,8 and 9.
Maya does not close her door at the end of her busy day. Her home is open to her friends and most important the friends of her daughters Vanya and Greta. The interaction between the Doctor and her children is special. One can tell that Maya has put a lot of time into her girls and brought up two very mature and caring human beings. “My daughter (Greta) has actually brought me kids, her friends, so we started working together. You know I bring them over to the office and they become patients. We have had meetings with families here, parents have also come over. The kids already know where the house is. A lot of them have slept on these couches.”
Some of the kids coming over to her house are known drug users. I ask her if she feels safe with these kids with drug problems staying over with her daughters. “Absolutely,” she says. “I mean addiction is an illness, they are not bad kids. What my kids know is not necessarily what I’ve taught them, it’s what they’ve seen.”
Opening up Maya’s house to the kids has not been without it’s difficulties. Helping anybody with a heroin habit always comes with a stigma attached. “I’ve had calls from parents of friends of my kids saying somebody said to me that you have a heroin addict living with you, and I just need to know what that means before I send my kid over to your house. And so I said, did you talk to your kid? And they said, no, I wanted to talk to you first. Or they will ask me ‘I found this in the house, can you identify it?’ Did you talk to your kid? No, I wanted to have the information first.”
Maya appears a bit disgusted as she speaks of the attitude of some of the parents of the addicts in town. “Anyway my point being, talk to your kids. It’s not like parents against drugs, it’s parents and kids against drugs. We’re a team. I hear ‘my kid will lie to me. ‘ My feeling on that is, at least you are starting the conversation. It’s been tough. Friends have told me that there are rumors about what goes on in my house. The problem is that these rumors are true. I do have these kids here but not for the reasons that they think.”
We talk a little bit about some of the new drugs being used to treat opiate addiction. “Suboxone takes care of the craving like methadone. There is a ceiling effect with it so you cannot overdose on it. If you are ready it works, if you have support and are working a program. If you take it as prescribed the idea is that it makes people feel normal and makes them feel like themselves and those are the people who are taking it correctly. If you take it correctly, you can get your life back.”
Maya is one of a handful of doctors in Ulster County that can write for suboxone now. “People can abuse anything. Suboxone is used as a detox drug and as a maintenance drug. In most places they use Suboxone instead of methadone now. I generally use it as a maintenance. The Naloxone in it keeps you from overdosing and blocks other opiates (such as heroin). The point of it is that it keeps the cravings away and also acts as an anti-anxiety drug. It keeps you stable so that you can start doing the work,” the work that is just as important as taking Suboxone.
Maya is getting ready to take a ride down to Samaritan Village so our time together is coming to an end. I feel so comfortable here that I could hang out all day with Maya and her daughters. As we wind up, Maya talks about the state of our society today. “I think we have changed. Sort of as a society. What I see is painful marriages, painful divorces, an increase in people relying on anxiety medication, an increase in reliance on pain medication…the economy and the state of the earth. Everything, it’s pretty grim out there. I think that the kids are a product of this environment. Without the same tools that we have, they are responding the same way. We are completely reliant on the ‘quick fix’ just in terms of medication. How we deal with our own personal stuff. We created this. If we were able to live in our discomfort, to live with our anxiety, our fears and our pain, without reaching for a pill I think…” Maya does not finish her sentence due to Greta calling us into the kitchen for breakfast. “It’s pretty grim out there, I mean we’re the adults and we’re grim.
With people like Maya Hambright the world is a little bit less grim and Woodstock has a doctor that really cares about their patients, so the Randy Rissman legacy lives on.
Oh, and breakfast was excellent by the way.