With Donors’ Support, Laguna Beach Community Clinic starts major expansion

George Baechtold. Courtesy of Laguna Beach Community Clinic

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic is moving forward with plans to modernize its building thanks to a recent fundraising campaign, which included a $200,000 earmarked by the estate of a local philanthropist.

George Baechtold, a local philanthropist who died Dec. 7, 2019, helped the Clinic for decades, including in the AIDS crisis’s early days. His estate recently donated $500,000 to the Clinic—nearly half this sum was set aside for the renovation.

The Clinic’s administrators plan to construct a new lobby with a triage room and private check-in, a multipurpose break room that doubles as a nutrition center, and improvements to the building’s exterior. All of this work will be done within the building’s existing footprint and in a phased approach intended to limit impacts on patients.

“Over the decades, the Clinic has evolved to meet the needs of our community,” Dr. Jorge Rubal, CEO and medical director of the Community Clinic. “The COVID-19 health crisis has tested our strength and underscored the need to expand.”

The Clinic staff hopes to see all renovations completed this spring, Rubal said.

As AIDS became an epidemic, viral load testing was a game-changer for patients and physicians, but the Clinic had no budget for the expensive test. Baechtold learned of the need and funded the Clinic’s testing program. Dr. Korey Jorgensen, the Clinic’s medical director during the 1980s said.

“It still brings a tear to my eye to recall how George funded our crucial testing program,” Jorgensen. “He made an immediate improvement in the health of my HIV patients. For some, it saved their life”.

Over the decades, Baechtold funded many clinic projects, including those that involved building or maintaining, Jorgensen said. This generosity continued after his death and sparked a $450,000 matching fund.

“We reached out to our most generous supporters and asked if they would be willing to participate in this journey,” said Roya Cole, president of the board of directors. “The response was amazing; we’re honored to announce this true collaboration of generosity.”

The funds will also provide for the addition of a full-time Family Physician and a full-time Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

“We are blessed to have had Geroge in our lives,” stated George Heed, Past Board President and friend of Mr. Baechtold. “George was an extraordinary benefactor to so many non-profits in the City. I miss him, but I’m grateful to see his presence daily in our community. George Heed and Dr. Korey Jorgesen were quick to follow Baechtold’s lead, helping to build the matching fund.

Dr. and Mrs.Tom Bent, Bill Gross, and Laguna Presbyterian Church were among those who added to the matching fund.

“Our lives have been intertwined with the Clinic and its mission for decades. It’s been an honor to serve alongside many dedicated and generous individuals, and very rewarding to see the Clinic continue to grow to meet the needs of our community,” Bent said in a statement.

As a long-time Clinic supporter, Gross said in a statement that he donates to where it can do the most good when it is most needed.

“Whether it is restaurant employees, domestic workers, or unemployed musicians, anyone affected by the pandemic, whether directly or indirectly, deserves assistance to help get through his challenging time, especially if it’s health-related,” he said.

After a months-long interview and bidding process, the Clinic selected Ken Mockett of Pacific Orca Corporation and Architect Todd Skenderian to complete the build.

“I’m continually amazed by the generosity of our community,” Rubal said. “Thanks to our family of supporters, we’re able to expand in ways that will bring a noticeable impact to our patients and our community.”

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