Next chapter: Retired Naples derm creates clinic for working poor

March 16, 2012

William Lascheid, M.D., was in his early 70s when he and his wife, Nancy, retired from four decades of dermatology practice. The couple lived in the lap of retirement luxury in Naples, Fla., and had dreamed about the days when they’d be free to sleep in and spend sunny afternoons by the pool.

Naples, Fla. - William Lascheid, M.D., was in his early 70s when he and his wife, Nancy, retired from four decades of dermatology practice. The couple lived in the lap of retirement luxury in Naples, Fla., and had dreamed about the days when they’d be free to sleep in and spend sunny afternoons by the pool.

But a week into his retirement in 1998, Dr. Lascheid was feeling troubled by what he hadn’t done. His images of one dermatology patient were especially vivid. She worked in a restaurant and didn’t make much more than minimum wage. A bad case of dermatitis had brought her into Dr. Lascheid’s office. But what had stayed in his mind was the melanoma he’d spotted on her shoulder.

“We’ll have to treat that, too,” he told her.

The woman was but one of the many working poor in the community who needed access to healthcare. Dr. Lascheid says he and his wife, a nurse, knew that they could help.

Retired dermatologist William Lascheid, M.D., and his wife, Nancy, stand in the medication room at the Naples, Fla., Neighborhood Health Clinic, which they founded in 1998. (Photo: William Lascheid, M.D.)

That week, the couple sat at their kitchen table and scribbled a plan for what would become the Neighborhood Health Clinic. The project has since taken the Lascheids’ retirement in a direction they could not have imagined at the time: Today, the clinic is a lastingly successful institution that boasts an annual operating budget of more than $1 million and serves an estimated 10,000 patients a year.

Dr. Lascheid recalls that the woman with melanoma didn’t have insurance. The thought of having additional medical care worried her. But, as he had told previous patients in similar circumstances, Dr. Lascheid assured her that she’d only have to pay what she could.

“From the time I started practicing medicine, if people came in and they couldn’t afford it, they either got discounted or didn’t have to pay,” he says. “That’s just the way life is. We help each other.”

That philosophy was central to the founding of the clinic, which began with an evening of brainstorming among colleagues. Two days after drawing up the plan, the Lascheids invited 14 friends, including doctors, nurses, social workers, a pharmacist, an attorney and accountant, into their living room to talk about how they could provide healthcare to the local working poor.

Dr. Lascheid described the meeting in an article later published in the magazine Guideposts: “Nancy served wine and cheese, and I outlined our vision for the clinic. ‘These are people who often fall through the cracks,’ I said. ‘They don’t qualify for government aid, and they can’t afford existing clinics. We would have to do this with donations and grants … and plenty of volunteers.’ I looked around the room. ‘We need help from each and every one of you to make this happen. How many of you are in?’

“All 14 hands shot up.”

From doctor to beggar
Dr. Lascheid went from offering a needed service to selling a nonprofit idea. A respected dermatologist in Naples, Dr. Lascheid took on the task of finding clinic space without money for rent.

“Hat in hand, I visited the CEO of Naples Community Hospital. This was a new role for me - begging,” he wrote in Guideposts.

The CEO pointed Dr. Lascheid in the direction of empty space owned by the hospital. It wasn’t in the greatest of shape, but the clinic could rent it for a $1 a year.

Deal.

Dr. Lascheid’s next role: custodian. He and Nancy, armed with brooms and garbage bags, would tidy up the place.

By April 1999, the year after he had retired, the Neighborhood Health Clinic opened its doors, with a staff of nine volunteers: three physicians, three nurses and three office workers.

Dr. Lascheid and Nancy brushed up on their skills as family practice practitioners, which was what Dr. Lascheid had done early in his career. He and Nancy volunteered eight to 10 hours a day.

“You could say I flunked retirement,” he says.

Fast forward
Twelve years later, the Neighborhood Health Clinic is a success story. Dr. Lascheid says there are about 180 physician and 140 nurse volunteers at the multidisciplinary clinic, which cares for some 200 patients a week. The clinic is a nonprofit, charitable organization supported by donations, and does not accept government funding.

The clinic and its co-founders have become icons, of sorts. In February 2012, Hodges University, Naples, Fla., honored Dr. Lascheid and Nancy as its 2012 Humanitarians of the Year. Others in healthcare look to the clinic as a model for care delivery.

“We have groups coming from all over the country to visit and shadow the clinic to try to emulate it for their communities,” Dr. Lascheid says.

He and Nancy have scaled back to volunteering part time at the clinic. Dr. Lascheid continues to consult on dermatology cases and occasionally sees primary care patients. Severe macular degeneration has taken most of his vision in one eye, limiting his ability to provide healthcare services.

In an ironic twist, Dr. Lascheid has had to look for paid part-time work. Today, he oversees operations at a radiation oncology practice.

“I have a part-time job because the economy was so bad, and, fortunately, I was able to find (one),” he says.

Still, he says, there’s nothing he would change about the past 12 years, and he has no plans to retire. Physicians, according to Dr. Lascheid, should consider getting involved in their communities because what they can do is so needed.

“I think one of the problems with retirement is that we know so much, and we know we can help a lot of people out there,” he says.

For more information, visit: www.Neighborhoodhealthclinic.org.