History of the Jemsek Clinic

“Since the year 2000, the Jemsek Clinic has been a bastion of hope for disenfranchised patients around the world: at first, HIV/AIDS and, soon after, Lyme patients. We never, ever gave up on them — regardless of the consequences.”

— Dr. Jemsek

Dr. Joseph Jemsek hugs a patient
“DeAnn Lipe gives Dr. Joseph Jemsek a hug after an appointment. After being sick for seven years, the 38-year-old Troutman nurse says months of intravenous antibiotics have helped her feel well again. Photo, Diendra Laird.” Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.

Origins of the Jemsek Clinic

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Dr. Jemsek transitioned his infectious disease practice out of the acclaimed Nalle Clinic, where he’d worked since 1979, and founded the Jemsek Clinic at Lake Norman, North Carolina. The Jemsek Clinic opened its doors to provide care for 250 HIV/AIDS patients in the Charlotte area with a staff of 8. Not long after, Dr. Jemsek began noticing patients coming from other states — all seeking help not for HIV/AIDS but for “Lyme disease,” a tick-borne illness (TBI).

Drawing correlations from accepted treatment paradigms for chronic illnesses —  such as hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS — Dr. Jemsek treated Lyme disease using repeated courses of long-term oral antibiotics and, for patients who did not improve with orals, extensive intravenous antibiotic therapy. Dr. Jemsek was not aware that his “innovative” approaches would soon welcome an influx of patients, as well as waves of criticism and attacks.

Dr. Jemsek realized that Lyme disease patients needed to fight a medical system that discriminated against them and to exert pressure on authorities for research and treatment development — just as, two decades prior, HIV/AIDS patients had to do. In support of this fight, in 2004, Dr. Jemsek began offering a number of lectures on Lyme disease, including two presentations to the North Carolina Department of Health and a grand rounds presentation to the Infectious Disease Department at Duke University Medical Center, attracting considerable attention both from advocates and detractors.

From 2001 to 2005, the Jemsek Clinic offered care to patients traveling from 45 states and several countries seeking evaluation for TBIs. In only a few years, the Jemsek Clinic had become the largest private clinic for HIV/AIDS in the Carolinas and one of the largest in the country, and it was becoming the most active medical center in the world for treating TBIs.

Rosedale Medical Center, Huntersville, NC.
Rosedale Medical Center, Huntersville, NC, a building designed and landscaped by Dr. Jemsek himself. “It was a place of calm and spirituality; I really wanted the best for the patients.”
Closure of the Jemsek Clinic and Rosedale Medical Center, Rosedale, Huntersville, NC (2006)
Closure of the Jemsek Clinic and Rosedale Medical Center in Huntersville, NC (2006)

Rosedale Medical Center

Adapting to the clinic's success and the needs of its growing patient population, plans began for the clinic's expansion. In February 2006, after 24 months of intensive planning and preparation, Dr. Jemsek and his staff opened an $11 million, state-of-the-art clinic at the Rosedale Medical Center in Huntersville, North Carolina.

The Jemsek Clinic was emerging as a clinical model for the care and study of chronic infectious diseases. But soon after it opened its doors, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), the largest insurer in the state, abruptly and unexpectedly refused to pay for clinical services rendered since late 2005. BCBSNC also announced its first policy on Lyme disease treatment, authorizing only two weeks of oral antibiotics, and applied this policy retroactively. More than 150 patients, outraged by BCBSNC's new treatment guidelines, submitted letters of complaint to the Department of Insurance of North Carolina and the attorney general's office.

Within month of moving into the Rosedale Medical Center, the Jemsek Clinic had to let go 80% of its employees due to insolvency and legal challenges. Despite a reduced staff and dire financial straits, the Jemsek Clinic continued in operation, now on a fee-for-service basis. Many Lyme disease patients had to make significant financial sacrifices, some at the expense of basic needs. In contrast, rarely could an HIV/AIDS patients meet his financial challenge, forcing the Jemsek Clinic to conclude providing services for HIV/ AIDS care, scattering more than 1,000 patients into the Charlotte-area health care system.

As a result of the new insurance industry policy on Lyme disease treatment, chronically ill patients were prevented from accessing care across the entire United States. Not only were insurers not paying for services, but physicians willing to treat out-of-pocket also began to be challenged by state medical boards - and, in many cases, their medical licenses were restricted, suspended, or terminated. In July 21, 2006, Dr. Jemsek's license was restricted by the North Carolina Medical Board, allowing him to treat patients with Lyme disease for no more than 60 days. Knowing that he could not get his patients better withing that timeframe, Dr. Jemsek decided to relocate his practice to a jurisdiction with a more welcoming attitude to his mode of treatment. It would take 13 years for the North Carolina Medical Board to rescind and abolish their verdict against Dr. Jemsek.

Jemsek Specialty Clinic providers (left to right) Danielle Adams, PA-C; Candace Willett, PPCNP-BC, MSN, MPH; Joseph Jemsek MD, FACP, AAHIVS; Rachel Markey, PA-C, 2023.
Jemsek Specialty Clinic providers (left to right) Danielle Adams, PA-C; Candace Willett, PPCNP-BC, MSN, MPH; Joseph Jemsek MD, FACP, AAHIVS; Rachel Markey, PA-C, 2023.

The Jemsek Clinic Survives

In the summer of 2007, Dr. Jemsek temporarily relocated his practice to Fort Mill, SC, and then in 2009, to Washington, D.C. At the entrance, the Jemsek Specialty Clinic in D.C. announced its mission: “To provide the highest standard of care and compassion to our patients, to engage in research, and to be a model of excellence to those serving the Lyme community worldwide.”

With a total of 22 full-time staff, in 2023 the Jemsek Specialty Clinic continued to provide life-saving care to thousands of discriminated-against chronically ill patients. Under Dr. Jemsek’s initiative, the clinic also planned research programs to share with the medical community advances made in understanding the etiology and treatment of chronic TBIs, including a clinical study in collaboration with Global Lyme Alliance to determine the effectiveness of the Jemsek protocol, using a rigorous evidence-based clinical research process.

Over its 23-year history, the Jemsek Specialty Clinic has been a leading infectious disease practice specialized in the evaluation and treatment of Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis complex) and its associated conditions, offering a holistic approach to treatment developed over two decades to thousands of patients from across the United States and over 40 countries.

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