Service demand up

Jon Beccarelli, 32, felt embarrassed when he walked into Share our Selves’ medical clinic in Costa Mesa on Friday.

Beccarelli, who has a serious, long-standing thyroid condition, has relied on company health insurance to pay for his treatment for years; but he recently lost his sales job when his employer, Wickes Furniture, went out of business.

To get his prescription medication, Beccarelli sought a doctor at Share our Selves, a local nonprofit whose volunteers offer free social, medical and dental services. He sat in the waiting room among area homeless and longtime urban poor.

“I felt strange, like I was on food stamps or something,” Beccarelli said.

But Patrick Chen, a physician and associate director of the clinic, said white-collar workers have become an increasingly common sight in his office since the financial crisis.

Chen said he often has personal conversations with his patients and that he has heard a surprising number of anecdotes from workers in the mortgage industry, the financial sector and all other parts of the economy that took a hit.

Just the other day a diabetic man walked into his office wearing a collared shirt and a tie, Chen said.

The man had been working as a loan compliance officer for Countrywide Financial before being laid off, and he was having a hard time wrapping his head around his new situation, Chen said.

“He kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here,’ ” Chen recalled.

In the last three months, the number of walk-ins at the Share our Selves medical clinic has increased by 10.3%, which is significant and out of the ordinary, Chen said.

And unlike most industries where the demand drops as the economy flounders, the demand for charitable services increases drastically as money becomes tighter, which is squeezing Share our Selves from both sides.

Development Director Karen Harrington estimates that when the numbers are run, the charity will have taken in about 15 to 20% less money this fiscal quarter, which ends Friday, than it did during the same quarter last year.

“Our supporters live in the same economy as our clients, and everyone has to pay attention and watch where their dollar goes,” Harrington said. “So it’s going to be a tough year.”

Although many of the recently laid-off workers receiving treatment at Share our Selves’ clinic say they have gotten over their initial shame at having to rely on the charity, some are concerned that it might be a while before they can get on their feet and pay for their own treatment.

Beccarelli says he’s been frantically looking for jobs in retail and sales. Despite his 16 years of retail experience, he says, he is continually turned down.

David Molino, 54, is in a similar boat. He has been going to Share our Selves for months to get treatment for severe sleep apnea and high blood pressure.

The cordial man’s pride is evident in his voice, and he says it was hard for him to put that pride aside and make an appointment at the clinic.

Molino describes himself as a staunch Republican who adamantly believes that everyone should work for what they get and not rely on the generosity of others to carry them, but after losing his job he can’t see an end to his visits to Share our Selves.

Earlier this year the company that employed him, which makes wrought iron wall decorations for sale at the Costa Mesa swap meet, reduced its staff from 15 full-time workers to two because of a steep decline in demand for non-essential goods.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Molino said. “Being 54 years old, I thought I could get a driving job or something, just to pay the bills, but there’s nothing out there.”

Even if he needs to rely on the clinic for his medications, though, Molino says he has committed to losing weight so that he doesn’t have as many medical problems to treat.

Aside from cases like Beccarelli, who had health insurance from his employer before losing his job, many of the new clients of the clinic didn’t have health insurance even when they were employed, but they used to be able to pay their modest medical bills out of their salary.

Individual donations are intimately tied to the economy, so Harrington doesn’t expect money to start pouring in from people around the community until things get better.

As a result, she says she has been pursuing more funding from outside sources like healthcare agencies and nonprofits.

“Contributions are not down enough to where I’m panicking, but it’s going to be tight,” Harrington said.


ALAN BLANK may be reached at (714) 966-4623 or at alan.blank@latimes.com.

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