Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Dr. Geiss with The Lake Area Free Clinic
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Access to health care is a top concern for many people. And for those who don’t have insurance, it can be expensive and difficult to get the care they need. The Lake Area Free Clinic in Oconomowoc is helping to fill that gap. Dr. Peter Geiss, the clinic’s Medical Director, is leading the way.
Dr. Geiss is retired, but it can be hard to tell. He spends several evenings a week seeing patients by appointment and fitting in those who just walk in.
“I mean, you're energized. You continue to be intellectually stimulated, and at the end of the day, you can do some good. I just don't know anything better than that,” Dr. Geiss said.
The Lake Area Free Clinic mainly serves Waukesha County’s working poor, and they do it all for free. That means mean patients don’t have to pay for doctor visits, diagnostic tests, or medication. The clinic mainly serves Waukesha County’s working poor.
“These are people who are working hard,” he said. “They have great families, but they just fall through the cracks.”
Dr. Geiss said 70% of the clinic’s patients work, but don’t have insurance provided by their employer. Patients must also fall below 250% of the federal poverty rate. Geiss said that works out to be about $30,000 for a single person and $48,000 for a family.
“In Waukesha County, we estimate there are at least 18,000 people who fit into the category of low income, no insurance and needing health care,” explained Dr. Geiss.
And at the clinic, they’ve seen it all. Many patients have avoided going to the doctor because they don’t want bills they can’t afford to pay. So some patients come in with serious conditions that have gone untreated, including cancer, diabetes and heart issues.
“Unfortunately because of lack of access, a lot of the people we see are quite ill when they get here,” Geiss said.
The clinic is staffed by volunteers. More than 320 doctors and nurses provide care to thousands of people each year. The clinic recently opened a dental clinic, too.
“It truly is the community's clinic,” said Mary Reich, the clinic’s executive director.
She’s been with the clinic since it opened in 2001, first as a volunteer, and later as an administrator.
“I get to work where I would choose to volunteer,” she said.
When she started in 2001, the clinic served just 100 patients. This year, they will have more than 3,500 visits. Dr. Geiss and the staff make sure they get the care they need. Reich calls Geiss a mentor.
“He always does the right thing. He will advocate fiercely for the patients and the clinic,” Reich said.
Reich and Geiss said the clinic is a community effort. They partner with businesses and organizations in Waukesha County to keep it running.
“Let's face it, I've been lucky, and most of the people who work here have been lucky in their lives,” Geiss said. “To be able to, after you've retired, to work with people who are definitely in need, sometimes I think I get more out of it than they do.”
The Lake Area Free Clinic also fundraises $900,000 to keep the clinic funded.
We’d love to hear from you. If you have someone you’d like to nominate for “Natalie’s Everyday Heroes,” just send a message to [email protected]. Tell us about someone who’s doing good work in your community.