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Clinic Can’t Get Treatment for Cuts

Times Staff Writer

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic, which treats thousands of poor and uninsured patients, may have to reduce services because of proposed local and state budget cuts.

Already, the City Council has reduced its donation to the clinic from $250,000 to $150,000 because of its own financial woes. Further cuts could come from the county and state.

The patients are immigrants, their children, seniors, HIV-positive men and women, and Laguna Beach’s self-employed artists, all with little access to health care. The 32-year-old clinic provides a variety of nonemergency services, from root-canal surgery to prescriptions for antibiotics.

Many of the clinic’s patients are part-time workers who have no medical coverage.

“A lot of companies don’t want to hire full-time people,” explained clinic director Adriana Sayegh. “It’s easier to hire two or three part-time people, streamline your budget and get the same productivity.”

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The clinic, crammed into a small building on 3rd Street, is just a few blocks from the downtown area’s chic restaurants and pricey galleries. But it is all but invisible to the affluent residents who hire the nannies, landscapers and housekeepers who use the clinic.

Nearly half the clinic’s patients live outside the city but work in Laguna Beach.

Ximena Pinilla, 28, lives in Anaheim but drives to the clinic regularly for prenatal care. Both she and her husband, Rene Herrera, 37, work part time and are uninsured.

Doctors at another clinic detected an ovarian cyst in Pinilla about 18 months ago and told her that she could never have children, she said.

The young woman was devastated. A friend recommended the Laguna Beach clinic.

She was in tears when she showed up, she said. But the staff reassured Pinilla by explaining that a cyst does not mean she cannot give birth.

After surgery, “I kept coming,” said Pinilla, who is now five months’ pregnant. “When you find a place where they make you feel comfortable, you don’t have to look for another place.”

Dr. Niall Cullen, an obstetrician/gynecologist at the clinic part time, said he sees about 150 patients a month.

Grants cover some of the costs, as do donations. But 38% of its funding comes from state and county government sources. The loss of a private grant recently forced the clinic to slash its night hours.

Gov. Gray Davis has called on lawmakers to approve $12.8 billion in cuts by the end of this month to begin closing a budget shortfall.

If Davis’ proposed cuts are approved, community clinics like the one in Laguna Beach will be forced to further trim their hours, cancel programs and see fewer patients, said Erica Waidley, executive director.

Laguna Beach Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman said the city had no choice.

“We may be looking at layoffs of our own employees because of what the state is going to do to us. I don’t want to be facing a city employee [and say] you are going to lose your job because we gave an extra $100,000 to the community clinic.”

Recently, the clinic opened a dental office. In just 400 square feet, Dr. Carlos Garcia fit two examination rooms, an X-ray room, small lab and sterilization area, reception area and cabinets for supplies.

Brian Moberly, 39, was one of the first patients to use the new facility.

Moberly, who has been HIV-positive for 15 years, has suffered because the medications he takes have made his teeth brittle and weak.

“Dental is a huge need for these clients,” said Waidley. “Some of our kids -- 6 and 7 years old -- have never seen a dentist.

"[The number of my patients], based on this economy, will probably go up, but my income will go down.”


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