Clinic expands to serve our working poor

by Jeff Lytle


There are non-profit organizations that embrace community challenges and, after reaching capacity, sustain rather than grow. Then there are non-profits that commit to do whatever it takes to handle demand that grows along with the community.

The Neighborhood Health Clinic in central Naples, dedicated for more than 20 years to helping and healing the uninsured working poor, has completed its latest push to go above and beyond.

Since 2003, expansion of service has meant renovations. This time expansion means real expansion at the former site of a string of car businesses – a dealer, restoration and repair center, and a car wash.

Capping a nearly $13 million fundraising campaign to remain debt-free, the Neighborhood Health Clinic campus on Goodlette-Frank Road has unveiled the donor-named Armstrong Medical Building and Van Domelen Education and Wellness Building.

Armstrong houses radiology, expanded dental services now comprising a full four-part suite, women’s health, wound care, ophthalmology, ENT and vision. Van Domelen features a teaching kitchen studio with audio-visual for audiences, and classrooms for breast health, diabetes management, healthy lifestyles, pain management, smoking cessation and social services. The wing also has space for staff meetings and clinic social/fundraising events.

The president and CEO of a proud collaborator, Paul Hiltz of NCH Healthcare System, says the clinic “brings tremendous benefit to our community and the expanding service for our neighbors is positive news for Naples.”

The connected chain of buildings that blend into their growing surroundings is light years from founders Nancy and the late Dr. Bill Lascheid’s launch in a storefront at an underachieving, long-gone shopping center a block away. They were not even sure they were on the right track when proposing the clinic, driven by philanthropy and volunteers, to relieve costly pressure on the NCH downtown emergency room.

“Once we got to 2003” when the first phase of the stand-alone clinic opened, “we never looked back,” Nancy Lascheid now says. “A medical and dental campus unfolded.”

Staff members chime in. “We are blessed to be able to help our community with such amazing medical and dental care,” says Keith Maples, chief development officer. Marcie Burland, a development colleague, adds emphasis on a key component: It’s all about “those who keep our community thriving” – modestly paid workers in service industries.

Michael Daltry, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, notes Naples depends on the working poor, mirroring other resort towns. “We are fortunate to have the clinic,” he observes. “Many other places don’t.”

The Neighborhood Health Clinic assures service industry crews they have somewhere to turn when injured or sick, helping them feel valued and continue earning – and keep businesses open amid labor shortages.

“The Neighborhood Health Clinic is absolutely crucial,” Dalby confirms, with so many households – even with two adults working – only one paycheck or economic challenge away from “disaster or chaos.” And, Daltry adds, the clinic goes beyond the basics, to “topnotch primary care” with access to specialists as needed.

Another kudo comes from an official with a unique perspective, Dr. Alejandro Perez-Trepichio, who is a Neighborhood Health Clinic board member, president of the Collier Medical Society and chief medical officer of Millennium Physician Group, which uses clinic imaging equipment for private practice as well as Neighborhood Health Clinic patients.

The clinic, he says, is “an incredible resource for integral healthcare” that delivers “excellent” service. The milestone expansion, Maples says, means patients can come for care weekdays instead of a few nights a week and Saturdays when volunteer doctors, nurses and technicians would hold marathon sessions after work.

The expansion also allows transportation-challenged patients to access an array of care – and medicines — in a single trip. That is vital for most of the patients who arrive with multiple chronic diseases, Maples explains, such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity.

Maples confides that he sees grateful patients working in restaurants, stores and other places all over town, adding: “That’s a big rewarding aspect of it.”

By the numbers

The Neighborhood Health Clinic annual budget of $3 million is stretched by its volunteer corps of 700, including translators and file clerks, compared to 15 full time paid staff members.

They handle 11,000 patient visits for 27,000 procedures such as dental fillings and exams every year. Everything is achieved via private funding. their literature time after time stresses that no government funding is sought or accepted, to stay clear of red tape and allow policy such as all employees must be vaccinated against COVID, Maples says.

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