A living Davis icon, Dr. Jerome Lackner administered medical care to civil-rights workers pummeled during the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, and has long fought against the dehumanizing effects of managed care. Now 80 years old, Dr. Lackner serves as the chief medical consultant for the Silkworth Memorial Fund and Clinic, which he founded in 1997. The clinic provides completely free, 24-seven medical care for patients suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. As Dr. Lackner has said, his patients remain under his aegis “until one of us dies.” It’s a remarkably anachronistic arrangement, which he says has remedied more than 1,000 addicts over the years. Himself a former alcoholic who has been sober “well over 30 years,” neither Lackner nor anyone on the clinic’s board of directors or tiny staff—which consists pretty much of his wife, Becky, who serves as CEO—draws a salary. Bookkeeping is performed by a volunteer. Monthly expenses are not much more than a phone line, pager, yellow pages ad and malpractice insurance. Despite such low overhead, the clinic is dangerously close to running out of funding, and will cease to exist if help does not arrive in the next few months.
A similar plea four years ago led to a temporary uptick in donations. At the time, the Lackners had stressed that the fund needed $25,000 to keep going. That number wasn’t met, but continuing donations—including one from a former patient of $10,000—enabled it to eek by.
“Now the donations have dropped off,” says Becky, “and we’re barely surviving again. We still have people donating to us but not quite enough to keep us alive.”
There is no outside office, as Lackner often sees patients at his modest one story central Davis house. A commitment to patient confidentiality prevents Lackner from accepting federal or state funding.
“If you take money from the state or from the government, you have to put down the patients’ names,” says Becky. “Because of the kind of people he takes care of, whether they be rich or poor, because of what’s wrong with them, he won’t do that.”
Donations are the clinic’s only revenue source.
At his peak, she says, Dr. Lackner was seeing 40 to 50 patients a month. That number has dwindled to six to 12 in recent years, as the doctor has been “slowing down.”
“But he knows what he’s doing,” says Becky. “He’s gotten thousands of people clean and sober, really. He’s gotten people clean and sober, and they stay clean and sober.”
A proponent of Alcoholics Anonymous (the clinic is named for Dr. William Silkworth, who helped educate and treat the founder of AA, Bill Wilson), Lackner’s success, he says, is due to his persistence, and to what he terms “disability therapy for drugs and alcohol.” Patients granted state disability status are only done so on a weekly basis. They must attend the same AA meetings Dr. Lackner attends, and he must see them there each time, to renew for another week. The uncommitted need not apply.
“That’s what works,” says Becky. “And just keeping after people. Because people who have been on drugs and alcohol for a long time, their brain is dissipated. And it takes persistence, and constant reminding, and a lot of patience. But firmness. And if they really want to be clean and sober at all—which a lot of them don’t—but if they do, and someone like him keeps after them, they will eventually get sober and clean with his help.”
Donations may be sent to the Silkworth Memorial Fund and Clinic, P.O. BOX 2383 Davis, CA, 95616.