For nearly 20 years, the Laguna Beach Community Clinic has been providing medical, dental and counseling services to low-income residents in southern Orange County who lack medical insurance or the money to pay for traditional health care.
But now the clinic itself is having financial problems.
Rising rents and shrinking federal funds have forced the center to find a cheaper and smaller office by April 15 and cut the salaries of seven of 15 employees from 10% to 25% starting next month.
And the clinic is asking the community for an additional $25,000 by the end of this month just to keep it afloat.
The clinic consists of two buildings, a counseling center at 364 Ocean Ave. and a medical facility at 460 Ocean Ave. Patients from Laguna Beach, El Toro, Dana Point, Irvine and San Clemente pay on a sliding scale--from $20 a visit to nothing--to get prenatal care, free AIDS testing and prevention education, and family and group counseling, said William Plum, executive director.
Most of the clinic's $478,000 budget comes from grants, federal funds and community supporters, Plum said. But in recent years, federal money for community health care has dropped more than 50%, while rents in Laguna Beach have increased an average 10% a year.
Few of the nine community clinics in the county have endured the financial problems of the Laguna Beach clinic because they don't have the rent problems, Plum said. The clinic pays about $3,500 per month in rent for its counseling facility and about $2,500 for the medical center, he said.
"Most other clinics pay half of what we pay in rent, if they pay anything at all," he said. "Usually, people either donate the buildings to them or they let them pay about $1 or $2 a month, but that's not possible here."
For example, Santa Ana's La Amistad de Jose free clinic pays $2,500 in rent for its medical facility, which is subsidized by St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, clinic director Faith Hagerty said.
And the South County Community Clinic in San Juan Capistrano pays about $1,300 in rent for its medical clinic and is aided by grants and donations, executive director Bo Sanders said.
Members of the Laguna Beach clinic's board of directors have already pledged $10,000 out of their own pockets, and now the clinic is asking for $15,000 from residents. Two hundred letters have been distributed to clinic supporters, asking for $500 to $5,000 before the end of the month. Letters have also gone out to the entire community requesting donations.
Plum said the money will help pay employees and, it is hoped, put the budget in the black, but the problem of finding another office will still exist. The counseling center is looking for a smaller office--its current facility is 2,200 square feet--in South Laguna or Dana Point that will be easily accessible to patients.
"But the cheapest we've found now is $2,000 a month, and we can't afford that. . . . If we can't find anything by April 15 we'll have to move (both facilities into) the medical building."
Consolidating the two centers in one building would cut back counseling services by a third and force many of the 400 patients who use the facility each month to seek help elsewhere.
"We're hoping that someone will donate a space for our administration section and the counseling center," said Nancy Dudley, director of patient services.
"Even if we could only get the space for a couple of hours in the evening and had to shuffle around appointments that would be OK. We just don't want to have to turn our patients away, especially after they've been seeing us for so long."
Dudley, who is taking a 10% pay cut, plans to work extra hours at her teaching job at Saddleback College. She expects that the other employees taking pay cuts--all of whom volunteered for the cuts--will get additional jobs to make ends meet. But none will quit, she said.
"We're in a crisis now, but we're in one almost every year," she said. "Historically, this place has pulled through because of our 400 volunteer nurses, doctors and practitioners and the community."