After more than four decades of practicing medicine in Carson City, Rex Baggett still remembers the reason why he decided to become a doctor.
It was the mid-1940s and Baggett's cousin had just finished medical school and started work at a practice in Hobart, Okla.
"I tagged along with him and just thought that was the best way to live life," Baggett said. "As a doctor."
Baggett, 73, retired in 2004 after spending 34 years running an internal medicine practice in Carson City, the adopted home he moved to in 1969 to practice medicine with a former medical school classmate, Jack Harper.
Today, Baggett still is practicing medicine at the Ross Clinic, 138 Long St., which provides basic health care for those with no insurance and little income.
On March 26, Baggett will be recognized for his efforts at a dinner hosted by Friends In Service Helping that will benefit the free clinic, which the local charity provides. The event starts at 6 p.m. inside the Governor's Mansion, 606 Mountain St. Cost is $50 per person or $500 per table.
For more information call 775-882-FISH (3474).
"Rex basically is key to keeping that clinic going and operating," said Jim Peckham, the executive director of FISH. "He has some support volunteers as well, but the only way we can provide services to people are through people like him."
Peckham said the clinic sees about 2,000 patients each year. The operation is largely funded by donations and purchases made at the FISH thrift shop, adding the clinic is designed to help people who have no insurance and earn 150 percent of the poverty line - $16,335 per year for a single adult - or less.
The clinic has a small pharmacy that can dispense antibiotics, blood pressure medicines and over the counter drugs as well as insulin for diabetic patients. It also has three exam rooms (including one that's used for storage) and a waiting room filled with chairs donated by a local cardiology practice.
Baggett remembers a 28-year-old man who suffered a heart attack and came to the clinic for help. After a four-day stay at the hospital he was given a prescription for two drugs that would have cost him $304 for a month.
"And he came here and we were able to give him medications that didn't cost him anything," Baggett said. "And he wouldn't have been able to afford the treatment."
Like many of the patients who come to the clinic, that 28-year-old man suffered from a chronic disease - diabetes - and had spent many years ignoring his condition, which put him at risk for heart failure.
"We see a lot of people with diabetes, a lot of people with hypertension, a lot of people with chronic lung disease," Baggett said. "And all these are standard things you see in medical practice. When they're not attended to they can lead to significant problems that can lead to the emergency room, and that's what everybody in Carson City pays for."
The clinic does have its limitations, such as no X-rays. Baggett said if a patient comes in with an acute injury such as a broken arm or anything that may require stitches, he will send them to the emergency room.
The clinic's hours also are limited, too. Baggett works every other Tuesday and every Wednesday and Thursday, while other medical professionals have even fewer shifts on alternate Mondays and Saturdays. No one is on-call at night.
But the services it does provide do not go unnoticed, Baggett said.
"I think there's a large number of people that have said thank you because this is an alternative they didn't have before," Baggett said.
The clinic was founded by Charlie Ross, a doctor and personal friend of Baggett, who established it in 1993 inside a conference room in the FISH building.
"Charlie died suddenly in October 1998, and the clinic would have folded, so I started working at the clinic and shortly thereafter a gentlemen who was a patient of mine built the clinic that we're in now," Baggett said. "He never wanted to be acknowledged for it."
Today, three other medical professionals - pediatricians Pat Gunn and Brian Hall and nurse practitioner Kelly Fluitt -volunteer their time at the clinic as do other nurses and a number of medical and nursing students from the University of Nevada, Reno who usually get their first experience dealing with patients at the clinic.
"I think it's the large number of people who are medically indigent and there's a significant segment of our population," Baggett said.
"I think our medical community is trying. They're trying to meet the changes of what's going on with the government, they're trying to meet the changes with the population and frankly the hospital is the stop-gap because anybody who shows up at the emergency room, they're going to be taken care of. Unfortunately that's costly. Emergency room care is a lot more expensive."
When Baggett retired in 2004 he told the Nevada Appeal he was planning on doing more fishing, a hobby he shared with Ross before he died.
"Charlie's work, I knew a lot about it," Baggett said. "And he was the reason why a lot of doctors go into medicine. He wanted just to help people and not worry about the other stuff. So that's where the free clinic came about. Charlie was the only one working in it for a long while."
The free clinic today is filled with mementos from medical students and families grateful for allowing a curious college student to observe what it's like to be a doctor. A plaque featuring a photo of Ross hangs in the waiting room.
Baggett said much of his retirement has been spent doing the thing he fell in love with as a child: helping others.
"It's better than sitting home and watching television, let me tell you," he said.