2016-10-06 / Life in Leelanau

Doctor’s departure leaves hole in county's healthcare landscape

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


JANICE AND DAVID Lemak, who are moving to Reno, Nev., in about a week, spent Friday in the Leelanau Urgent Care office where they’ve offered medical care since 2009 — she as a nurse and he as a physician. JANICE AND DAVID Lemak, who are moving to Reno, Nev., in about a week, spent Friday in the Leelanau Urgent Care office where they’ve offered medical care since 2009 — she as a nurse and he as a physician. There were no tears from ‘Dr. Dave’ Lemak on the morning of his last day at Leelanau Urgent Care in Suttons Bay on Friday, where he has had a practice since 2009.

He was saving that for the end of the day, a moment he was dreading.

Janice Lemak, on the other hand, carried tissues around with her for most of the day.

The couple is moving to the Reno, Nev., area, where Dave Lemak has accepted a position as a supervisor in a health system with 13 urgent care centers mostly staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Lemak had been thinking about retiring to the Lake Tahoe area, where his brother lives, and said it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.


THE LEELANAU URGENT Care crew gathers for a photo on their last day at the office. Shown are Heather Mayes, X-ray technician, Lucy Schaub, billing manager, Dr. Dave Lemak and Janice Lemak, RN. Schaub and Janice Lemak are sisters. Not shown are Sue Egan, radiology director, and Jean Wolf, RN. THE LEELANAU URGENT Care crew gathers for a photo on their last day at the office. Shown are Heather Mayes, X-ray technician, Lucy Schaub, billing manager, Dr. Dave Lemak and Janice Lemak, RN. Schaub and Janice Lemak are sisters. Not shown are Sue Egan, radiology director, and Jean Wolf, RN. “That presented a unique opportunity to do something different pre-retirement — one last challenge,” Lemak said.

Avid hikers and skiers, the area also offers the Lemaks a prime playground, though Lemak said he’ll miss running up Bay Hill.

The couple’s son Michael, 25, also lives in the Reno area, where he is an EMT.

“That’s the best part,” Janice said.

Janice doesn’t have a new job lined up yet, but said she’s not one for sitting around and doing nothing.

The couple plans to sell their Lake Leelanau home, but will keep their Leland summer home. Janice’s parents and three sisters — one of whom works at the office — also live in the area.


JANICE LEMAK, left, gets a little help blacking out patient information on old X-ray envelopes from her mom, Paula Gitts. Through the years several family members have worked at Leelanau Urgent Care in Suttons Bay, which closed Friday. JANICE LEMAK, left, gets a little help blacking out patient information on old X-ray envelopes from her mom, Paula Gitts. Through the years several family members have worked at Leelanau Urgent Care in Suttons Bay, which closed Friday. “Now I get to come back and enjoy the summer and do the things other summer people do,” she said.

Several patients stopped by on Friday to pick up their medical records, but also to say goodbye and wish the Lemaks good luck.

“I’m very irritated that they’re leaving,” said Randy Woods of Leland. “They’re the best two we’ve had in the county in a long time. But I wish them the best.”

Brother-in-law Tim Schaub also stopped by.

“These guys are awesome and we’re going to miss them,” Schaub said.

Lemak said Munson Medical Center, which owns the building and the x-ray equipment there, does not plan to put another doctor in the building or use it for any other purpose.

“I do not understand why they can’t assist with placing a practice here,” said Lemak. “This is going to be a wasted resource.”

That, in fact, is one of the biggest concerns for the Lemaks.

“This place is our baby,” Janice said. “It’s just sad that we can’t turn it over to someone to practice medical care for the community. It’s needed here.”

The Lemaks, who had been advertising for a physician to take over the practice as a primary care office, had an interested buyer lined up, but the deal fell through just days before the office was to close.

Lemak said it’s difficult for an outsider to recognize the need here. Most also want to be closer to Traverse City and the Munson complex, he said.

“It’s not evident to the outside that it’s a great place to practice and it’s also a wonderful place to live,” he said.

Lemak was also a member of the Leland Township Fire Board and was the physician for the Leland fire department. Janice is a former member of the St. Mary Board of Education.

Dr. John Dunn, who relocated his practice to the Suttons Bay building about three years ago, is retiring.

Lemak’s specialty is emergent care, which has always fit the needs of Leelanau County well, he said. Its population is about 20,000 or so, which doubles and triples in the summer.

People who are vacationing may have a case of poison ivy, a cut finger or a child with swimmer’s ear. Those are things that can’t wait until they go home, but people on vacation also don’t want to spend what could be hours in an emergency room 20 miles away, he said.

“It really is a vacation community with a need that’s hard to meet,” Lemak said. “That’s why we thought an urgent care would work. And it has for 14 years.”

The facility is also a place where medical students routinely did rotations. Like Ryan Farley, a student in the Michigan State University program.

Farley has been at Leelanau Urgent Care for about a month.

“Dr. Lemak taught me a ton,” Farley said. “I’ve learned more on this rotation than on any other rotation. They let me do a lot under their guidance and supervision.”

The Lemaks came to Leelanau County from the Chicago area 14 years ago and opened an urgent care in Lake Leelanau. They soon outgrew the building. So when the opportunity to open a facility in Suttons Bay came up, they took it.

Lemak and Dr. Sander Kushner, who retired about three years ago, opened Leelanau Urgent Care in 2009.

Kushner never wore a white coat and neither does Lemak, saying it’s too formal. He prefers polo shirts with the Leelanau Urgent Care logo.

He also doesn’t bring a laptop into the exam room with him, a practice many physicians have recently adopted. Lemak prefers to provide “face to face contact,” he said.

The Lemaks both pride themselves on knowing their patients and having relationships with them.

“We felt like that’s what people deserve,” Lemak said. “The advantage to having your own practice is you can make it that way.”

“We know there’s going to be a void,” Janice said.

Lemak said he would understand if people are upset that a new physician is not taking Lemak’s place.

“If the community is mad because they’re not being supported, I think they have the right to make their views known,” he said.

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This is sad and a true loss.

This is sad and a true loss. Shame on Munson!