Our Laguna: Day dedicated to keeping women healthy

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic is not a money-making proposition.

Fundraisers make possible needed medical and dental services for the under-insured and under-paid folks in our community.

On June 11, the clinic will host the annual Sunset Beach Party at the spectacular Twin Points estate, named for the two lushly landscaped spikes of land between Shaw's Cove and Crescent Bay.

If sipping margaritas while strolling the grounds, dancing to live music and dining al fresco isn't enough enticement to attend the party, guests can bask in the glow of knowing the price of admission will support a worthy cause.

Among the services performed by the clinic is the annual Women's Health Day, which took place Saturday at Main Beach.

More than 200 people took advantage of the free health tests and medical information offered in a temporary tent city set up on the Cobblestones.

"I was so pleased by the response," said Clinical Director Adriana Sayegh.

More than 500 tests were administered, according to event records.

"This is Adriana's baby," said Dr. Tom Bent, clinic medical director. "She found the community partners, assembled the volunteers and set up the equipment. Set up began at 5 a.m. My job was to bring coffee for Adriana."

Sayegh and nurse practitioner Karen Deck started Women's Health Day 10 years ago in the clinic's parking lot.

"That's how small it was," Sayegh said. "But we recognized the importance of having something for women who always take care of others and need to learn to take care of themselves."

Sayegh, a single mother, said she benefitted from the experience.

"Who was I to tell women to take care of themselves if I didn't?" Sayegh asked.

However, it isn't only women who benefit.

"This was a wake-up call," said Susan Neely, clinic board member who found out she is slightly anemic Saturday.

"I need to get on a healthier eating regime, and it is even more important for my husband than for me."

Tests were also administered for cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis, for which Eleanor Henry took a break from the Peace Vigil.

HIV testing was provided in a closed tent to preserve anonymity. Kim St. de Paer heads the clinic's HIV/AIDS program, which is nationally recognized. Volunteers are trained in testing and counseling, Bent said.

Twenty 20-minute tests were taken Saturday, with results available immediately accompanied by counseling.

"The clinic was one of the first to do the 20-minute tests in South Orange County," Bent said. "We found that people didn't wait for the results of tests that were outsourced."

Besides Bent, volunteer oncologist Dr. Frank Anderson, volunteer cardiologist and clinic board member Dr. Orson Dee were joined at the event by Dr. William Woo, who is completing his residency and volunteers at the clinic on weekends.

Staffers who worked at the event included Shirley Stickney, Melanie Balestra, Ellie Espinal and Mary Nieto.

Mission Hospital's breast cancer information booth was staffed by Cheryl Shapiro and Jan Brown. Peg Schwinck provided information about Family Forward, which steps in during family emergencies to avert a downward spiral and ensure that children are adversely affected as little as possible.

Women's Health Day was sponsored by Andy and Pam Horowitz, clinic board member Roya Cole, the Tonkovich Family, American Assn. of University Women, St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Carl S. Scott of Gilead Pharmaceutical Co., Rene Larson of Design Graphics, Michelle Sherman of Laguna Drugs, Kimberly Murdock of Abbott Laboratories Inc. and Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, which has made two awards to the clinic, including $70,000 to continue the women's health-care program.

Funding for the event also was provided by the sale of handbags donated by generous clinic supporters like Cole, who donated Salvatore Ferragamo and Chanel purses for opportunity prizes.

Carolyn Bent, wife of the clinic medical director, said Handbags for Health was inspired by five handbags cluttering her closet that she had no intention of ever using again. She found other women with a similar problem and donations overflowed four tables, benches and couple of coat trees at the home of Dr. Pamela Lawrence, clinic board president.

What could be better than a guilt-free shopping spree?

Among the shoppers: Mayor Toni Iseman, Debbie Mulligan, Beth Summerl, Gayle Waite, Mary Kaplan, Glori Fickling, Joan Andersen, Mary Kate Saunders and Planning Commissioners Ann Johnson and Linda Dietrich.

Dietrich bought the very first bag after learning that one of the purses she had donated was a favorite of her daughter. Oops.

Guests were refreshed with hors d'oeuvres and champagne donated by Cole and served by Tom Bent.

Handbags for Health raised $3,500.

Although Women's Health Day has been a clinic program for 10 years, other services have been provided since 1970.

The clinic began with a telephone hotline for people with a medical problem and no way to pay for medical care. By October 1970, a free clinic was opened, fostered by the late Dr. Gene Atherton and bail bondsman Ron Kaufman.

Some locals were riled, fearing that free medical care would draw more undesirables to town.

Former Police Chief Neil Purcell was among the skeptics, but he later came to realize the clinic provided valuable services — never more so than in the 1980s when a mysterious ailment decimated the city's vibrant gay community.

The clientele has changed, the location moved from Ocean Avenue to Third Street and a sliding scale of payment has replaced the free medical services. The clinic that began by caring for indigents with needle-transferred hepatitis and STDs, now offers quality family health care as well as discrete testing for HIV/AIDS.

Nothing speaks so clearly to the change in the public's perception of the clinic than the selection of clinic doctors Bent and Korey Jorgesen the 2010 Patriots Day Citizens of the Year.

The clinic handles about 16,000 visits a year, 20% of which are by children or adolescents.

Patients typically pay $20 per visit, about 8% of funding sources.

Government grants and reimbursements account for 75%. The rest comes from us.

No wonder the clinic welcomes donations, and makes them as palatable as possible with event such as Handbags for Health and the upcoming Sunset Beach Party.

Reservations for the party are $100 until Thursday, $120 after that. Reservations are requested by June 3. For more information, call clinic spokeswoman Monica Prado at (949) 494-0761, ext. 134.

BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 302-1469 or coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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