September 23, 2014
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Next! Leslie Lascheid Takes the Reins

The daughter of the Neighborhood Health Clinic founders brings a fresh personality and different skills to the nonprofit.

Leslie Lascheid, right, left a distinguished career in the corporate world to carry forward her parents' mission.

Leslie Lascheid, right, left a distinguished career in the corporate world to carry forward her parents' mission.

Photography by Alex Stafford

Amid white coats and colored smocks, the Neighborhood Health Clinic CEO appears almost out of place. It’s a busy Monday clinic session, and she’s sporting a modish, sleeveless gray dress, beaded platform dress sandals and sweet silver earrings. But she’s not just sitting pretty, hands-off behind a desk; first patient to the last, she’s waist-deep in the trenches.

She takes short, quick steps from room to room, eyeing spaces to fill, patients to greet, processes to expedite, kinks to troubleshoot (and chocolate cake to eat). She can tell you not only the name of each staff member and volunteer she thanks, shakes hands with or hugs (700- plus people, including 247 physicians and 119 nurses, donate their time to the Naples nonprofit), but also the career path and distinct personal history. She knows this doctor paces 15 to 17 patients per session, and that one nine.

Organizer of chaos, Leslie Lascheid moves ceaselessly from physician to nurse, translator to pharmacist, counselor to clerk—and mom to dad.

Her parents are none other than Dr. William and Nancy Lascheid, clinic founders. As the story goes, the couple detailed a plan for the innovative institution, on a legal pad over two pots of coffee, on their first day of retirement as dermatologist and nurse. Their palpable dedication to the underserved has been a gravitational pull at the talents, hearts and wallets of the community—and has left their eldest daughter with big shoes to fill.

Leslie’s orderly approach has undoubtedly abandoned the status quo, and not without some resistance. But a national search for a forward-thinking leader circled definitively back to the clinic’s founding family—and a year into the position, Leslie has more than proven she belongs.

She looks for her mother, but she’s lost track of her.

“She’s little and she’s fast,” Leslie says. Perhaps she is unaware she operates at the same speed.

And she shows no signs of slowing down.

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When seven-year CEO Nina Gray decided in 2011 she wanted to resume her fundraising and development post, the clinic grouped five board members to find a replacement. At a crossroads, the committee turned to someone the clinic had called on for counsel with management, policy implementation and business plans since its inception in 1999.

“They asked Leslie to come in,” Nancy says. “She came in for five days a week, once a month, for a couple of months—because that’s what she did, acquisitions—to look at everything and then give them a proposal: ‘Here’s what you need.’”

“I don’t want to infer that I was in the limelight or right up there in any of the decision-making in the beginning—I was not,” says Leslie, 54. Humility runs in the family.

The committee then hired a firm to perform an extensive search, naming precisely the qualities they sought in a candidate. Leslie came to the top of the list.

Her parents appropriately recused themselves from the process—placing Leslie at the helm could have equated to a nepotism nightmare. But despite inevitable awkwardness, the committee felt strongly Leslie was the one.

“It wasn’t even close,” says committee member Dr. Bob Morantz, a renowned neurosurgeon. “Frankly, I would say in all honesty that Leslie was overqualified for this position.”

And Leslie had an emotional investment her competition did not.

“She has a real moral commitment to build upon the life’s work of her parents,” Morantz says. “You can’t buy that kind of commitment.”

Leslie has had quite the career for someone who “decided” college wasn’t for her. She drove partway home from Ohio’s Otterbein University, William says, before calling her parents. “You’re wrong,” they told her. “Turn around.” (She did.) She earned a master’s in business finance from Carnegie Mellon, and then another, in labor relations, from the prestigious Wharton School. Often recruited, she moved quickly up the ladder at large, prominent companies, including an acquisitions firm, publicly traded manufacturing company and venture capital group. Titles like “executive VP” and “COO” line her résumé. She holds further certifications in management and HR, and her work has taken her beyond Philadelphia, Connecticut and Boston to Belgium, Germany and France.

During what her father calls a “very young mid-life crisis,” Leslie took a class in aviation. She ended up getting a degree, of course, and becoming a commercial pilot, “with some buying and selling of planes for people just as something that was so different.”

“I love flying, the feeling of being in control,” Leslie confesses, somewhat sheepishly. But the career didn’t make sense for a single parent with three children, she says, so it was back to business.

The clinic approached her with the CEO position twice. Both times, she struggled with the timing.

“Finally my dad just sat down with me and said, ‘I don’t want to get involved, but I would really like it if you would come and help out’ and allow my mother and he to step back a little bit,” she says. “And as soon as Dad asked, I was like, ‘OK, I’ll come.’”

Neighborhood Health Clinic founders Nancy and William Lascheid with their daughter, Leslie, who took over the nonprofit in 2012.

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Step into Leslie’s office and it’s as if you’ve walked into your living room. Warm lamps dimly light floral paintings, pale blue walls and comfortable furniture. There’s a glass of iced tea on her desk and a brimming basket of pistachios, gummy bears and Good & Plenty atop her bookshelf.

“You would find the same amount of candy in my dad’s office,” she says. “It’s a little hard here when, obviously, healthy lifestyle is an important part of the teachings and education programs. I’m probably the poster child of what not to eat.”

Somewhere more hidden lies a box of Norman Love chocolates.

“If I see somebody’s face here that looks like they need the special stash, I immediately get it out,” she says.

She loves bar food and goes to ballgames for the eats. Even her top hobby is a ruse.

“I like to go out and play golf, mostly because I love what the snack cart has and the shop has,” she says.

Of her son’s wife, a pastry chef, she quips: “I would have married her if he didn’t.” And she once considered acquiring a small, family-owned business right up her alley.

“I thought, ‘This is like a dream job! This is like, a manufacturing company, that manufactures chocolate!’” she says. “I was thinking, ‘We’re going to have to widen the doorways because I’m not going to be able to get out.’” She ended up going a different direction.

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“Streamlined.” “Efficient.”

Such is the chorus of any conversation about Leslie with clinic staff or volunteers. She has shaken things up, so to speak.

“We go way back with all those people, and here comes Leslie from the big city, not medical, to take over,” Nancy says. “There was a little bit of push and pull between all of them in the beginning, but … I think they realize that she would not ask them to do something she was not willing to do herself.”

Most everyone is on the same page now, says office manager Pamela Nolasco, but the changes originally threw some for a loop.

“It was hard for me because we needed to ask patients for information that we didn’t ask for before, but Leslie knows why,” she says. “She has a vision that we don’t have.”

Besides requiring additional proof of patient qualifications, Leslie significantly downsized the intake volunteer pool, reorganized delivery of care and shuffled paperwork and filing operations. She is preparing thousands of medical records for electronic conversion, and working to boost research and patient education.

“I was a judge, so I tend to judge things,” says notary and intake volunteer Colin Edwards. “I think more could be done in particular areas.” But her door is literally never shut, he says.

“Some bosses—all the good ideas are their ideas. But she’s very receptive.”

She also purportedly has a knack for unearthing untapped potential in her colleagues.

“You have to be careful about asking a question around here,” jokes volunteer diabetes educator Bob Olson, “or you’ll get a new job.”

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“The restructuring is a natural offshoot of who she is,” Gray says of Leslie’s impact.

She has always wanted to fix things, her parents say. She was the child who wanted everybody to be happy, who would gladly let another take the lead—and her management style is no different.

“If something was not right, it was her responsibility,” Nancy says. “If something was going right, it was their credit.”

Leslie says she works with a team mentality.“There are a lot of people who are a lot smarter than I am, have more knowledge than I have, have different skill sets than I have, that I would never just say, ‘Guys, everybody, get on the wagon; we’re all heading this way.’”

Her parents hardly remember her being anything but amiable.

“The only time I ever remember her giving us a hard time was over that damn yellow coat,” Nancy says. “She wanted this coat so bad. She was a little kid, and she wanted this mustard-color coat, and I said that’s not—wearing a bright yellow winter coat in Pittsburgh for the winter is not going to be a good idea, with all the mud and the slush and everything, and then she threw a temper tantrum and threw herself on the ground in this department store and cried. And so we bought the yellow coat, and even when she didn’t want to wear it I made her wear it.”

Nancy turns to William: “She’s just so easy, isn’t she?”

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Asked what he loves most about working with Leslie, William replies, “She thinks and looks like her mother.”

Leslie truly is her mother’s daughter.

Stand the two side by side and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a marked difference. They share a petite build, creamy fair skin and short-cut hair. Both have striking, blue-green eyes beneath thin, arched eyebrows—often brightened by the same lavender shadow behind the same frameless glasses.

“Nancy is kind of a phenomenon of nature,” Morantz says. “She’s extraordinarily dedicated and hardworking. ‘We can’t do this’ doesn’t exist in her lexicon, and Leslie is the same way.”

Maintaining professional arm’s length isn’t without challenges, Nancy says. But she trusts Leslie “implicitly.”

“There are times when there will be something that’s feeling a little uncomfortable, and she’ll make a decision and I’ll go, ‘Hmmm,’” Nancy says. “I’m a knee-jerk reaction person, and she’s methodical, so then I’ll find out she did more research, she did more in-depth evaluation, she knows where she’s going with it. So, has she made any mistakes? I don’t think so.”

Considering the extreme independence Leslie was used to, working under the same roof has been surprisingly smooth.

“My parents have always been very good about sort of cutting the apron strings at the appropriate time,” Leslie says. “But I say that, and I do remember one morning I was picking up my mother to go to a meeting, and she looked at me and, a typical mother, she said to me, ‘Is that what you’re wearing?’ And I was like, ‘I guess not.’ … So I’ll say that they are not the type that protect. (If) somebody on the board would say to me, ‘You dropped the ball,’ whatever it is, they would not come to my rescue. And I would hope they wouldn’t.”

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Leslie is also her father’s daughter.

“My dad is just a marshmallow,” she says. The consensus is her heart is open just as wide.

Usually exuding maturity, Leslie wears a positively girlish grin when she speaks of her father.

“My dad is probably the one to tell you, whatever my dad says: ‘Yes.’ I want to please my dad.”

The adoration is mutual. When she was 17, he surprised her with a dark green, Fiat convertible for Christmas. When it came time to pilot her first solo flight, he sat predictably by her side. Unfortunately, wintry conditions made for a white-knuckle experience.

“I look over and my dad is just white, and sweating,” Leslie says. Nancy, once a private pilot, had flown her children many times before—but William was consistently absent.

“I just assumed it was because, ‘Oh, I’ll meet you up there.’ ‘I’ll bring the car’ and that kind of stuff,” Leslie says. “And all the sudden I realized he didn’t (fly). … But he did it because I had asked him.” Sounds awfully familiar.

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With inimitable spirit and stamina, the pioneer Lascheids have inspired a community and filled a gaping hole in its health system. And while the heart of Neighborhood Health Clinic will continue to beat the same, the couple believe Leslie has the prowess to carry their dream to another level.

“We sort of limped our way through and sought some help and got very excellent help from people in the community,” William says. “But when it came to going the next step, we felt that we needed a person who was going to lead us … who would be very strong in business.”

The Affordable Care Act presented a turning point.

“It’s a moving target,” Nancy says. “Our approach to reading it was not what the act would do, but more what the act would not do.”

A recent study by Hodges University determined “the situation of Collier County’s uninsured poor could remain critical for a number of years,” and revealed nearly 50,000 residents are eligible for the clinic’s services. Currently, it serves about 14,000 people choosing work over welfare.

“They need to know that the shelter they have is going to be there tomorrow,” Leslie says. “They need to know that if they are sick and they can’t go into work that there will be food on the table and a place for their children to sleep at night. … We’re addressing a very important part of these people’s needs—but I do have this feeling that we’ve scratched the surface of what needs to happen here.”

She and her parents hint at big things soon to come.

“Leslie’s on the right path,” Gray says. “It seems as though everyone who understands where we’re headed is equally enthusiastic.”

“I’m here all day, every day,” Leslie says. “I go home and I fall into bed, and I get up and I come back. And that’s what (my parents) have done for years, so what I hope has happened is I’ve allowed them to go home and enjoy dinner together, read the paper, watch the news or whatever they choose to do, and relax, and not spend as much time worrying about ‘Is everything getting done?’”

So is she is here to stay, until her own “retirement”?

“I hope that the board feels that way,” she says. “I love what I’m doing. There’s a lot of growth here, there’s a lot of things that I see on the strategic plan that I want to be a part of, so I do hope that I am blessed with them asking me to continue on.”

Something suggests they will.

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