Dr. Korey Jorgensen: Specializing in helping others

By: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Korey Jorgenson began his work at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic (LBCC) as a volunteer back in 1972.  “I was attached to the Marines…I was a doctor at the El Toro base.  One of the people I worked with was Bill Anderson (now at Sleepy Hollow Medical Clinic in Laguna Beach).  He was one of the physicians at the Base and he said I should look at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic as a place to volunteer my time,” explains Dr. Jorgensen.  

He did more than look, continuing to see patients at the clinic until November of 2014 (that’s 42 years, if you’re counting).  Not only did Jorgensen find LBCC a good fit for his services, he found the city to be a good fit for him personally, as well. “When I got out of the service in 1973 I was really ready to make Laguna my home,” he says.  

Leaving a thriving practice for Laguna Beach Community Clinic

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic was founded in 1970 as “a free clinic.” While the Clinic still serves low-income and uninsured patients it is no longer “free”, but rather relies on a “sliding fee scale and public support funds for care reimbursement” according to the group’s website.  It is a licensed non-profit agency.  Dr. Jorgensen continued his private solo practice in Costa Mesa as a family practitioner and an HIV specialist while also working at LBCC.  In 1991 he decided to take “a break” from his solo practice and start an HIV treatment program at LBCC.  

“I stayed at the Clinic from then on,” he says.  

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Dr. Korey Jorgensen just stopped seeing patients at LBCC after 42 years

Bringing his HIV treatment expertise to LBCC

Before Dr. Jorgensen arrived the Clinic didn’t have anyone who was knowledgeable about HIV, nor did they have any funding to pay for such treatment.  Under Dr. Jorgensen’s leadership, LBCC utilized money from the Ryan White Foundation, a federal program named for an HIV positive boy who had been discriminated against as a result of his having HIV, and partly funded by a tax on cigarettes. However, in 1991 HIV was “still a death sentence,” says Dr. Jorgensen.  It wasn’t until 1996 when better treatments were discovered along with better testing.  “This allowed doctor’s to more effectively treat and monitor patients with HIV. Then the death rate started to go down.”

“Everything has gotten better” for those with HIV

Things have changed so much in regards to HIV since it first arrived – its treatment, the public’s perception of it – that it’s hard to remember how dire a diagnosis of HIV was back then, not to mention the paranoia and fear regarding its transmission.  

“People’s attitudes have changed,” says Dr. Jorgensen.  “There is still a stigma attached to it, but there is a much better understanding of how it is transmitted; not from kissing, not from sharing a utensil.”  

As the only HIV treatment center “south of the 55”, as Dr. Jorgensen points out, he has seen many – and lost many – patients through the years.  Thankfully, things have improved. “Everything has gotten better…it has totally turned around,” he says.  Nevertheless, there are still 50,000-60,000 new cases a year.  This has been the statistic for the past 20 years with certain ethnic groups making up a larger share of those numbers, according to Jorgensen.  

“Women of color,” Jorgensen explains, “are a growth group for HIV.  Latinos, who are a hugely important group in Orange County, for example, bear a disproportionate share of the disease in the county.”  

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Dr. Korey Jorgensen, a past recipient of the Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade Citizen of the Year Award, on the deck of his Laguna Beach home

Retired but still heavily involved

Dr. Jorgensen, who, up until his retirement, was one of three doctors seeing patients at LBCC, also served as Clinic Director for several years.  And while he may be “retired” from LBCC, he is still involved.  “I donate money.  I also collaborate with staff on a pain management program; I have an advisory meeting with Dr. Bent, the current Clinic Director who is retiring soon; and I also collaborate with the people who write the newsletter, a very effective tool for informing donors what the clinic is doing with their money.  My fourth role is my involvement with maintenance issues.  No one was doing it when I Ieft so…” he says laughing.  I’m just guessing here, but I got the feeling that Jorgensen would happily hand off this particular responsibility in case anyone is interested.

Grateful for the kindness of strangers

And while no one disputes the importance of maintenance, Jorgensen strongly believes in acknowledging those who donate to LBCC.  “Without them we don’t exist.  Being alert to the fact that you depend on the kindness of donors…and strangers…you must be ready to thank them.  Many of my friends support the Clinic because they know I work there,” he says.

The LBCC’s biggest fundraiser just took place on May 5.  “The Cinco de Mayo fundraiser is a fun, fun party,” he says, “and a major source of funding.”  There is also “Handbags for Health” where high-end, vintage handbags are donated and then sold to raise money for LBCC.  “We also participate in ‘I Heart OC’ as well as make an annual appeal four times a year where we ask for money.   And we have grant writers, too.”  All of these things help keep the LBCC running and able to do its important work.

Chairman of The Laguna Food Pantry

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic is not the only place Dr. Jorgensen helps do important work.  One might think that with his retirement from seeing patients at LBCC Jorgensen would be honing his golf swing or some other equally indulgent activity with his new found free time.  If he is, it didn’t come up in our conversation (and it would mean his days have more than 24 hours in them).  Rather, Jorgensen finds time to be the Chair of The Laguna Food Pantry.  

“The Pantry gives away 2,000 pounds of food each day,” he explains.  “At least one third of these folks (who receive food from the Pantry) live, work or go to school in Laguna Beach.”

From running an efficient meeting to feeding 3,000 families a month

Jorgensen has been involved with the Food Pantry for “about 10 years”, he says, and was asked to join their Board by Jane Fulton, who was then the group’s Director.  

“I became the Chair because I know how to run a meeting,” he says with a laugh. 

Jorgensen explains that The Laguna Food Pantry gets food from Ralph’s, Pavilions, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and, now, Gelson’s.  “We also purchase what might be in short supply.  We give out fresh fruit, vegetables, frozen meat, canned goods, bread by the baleful – a lot of bread.  I think we serve 3,000 families a month.”  Jorgensen says that while the group happily accepts food donations, their preferred method of receiving support is cash.  “We can buy the food really cheap so the money goes a lot further,” he explains.  They have their “Pantry Palooza” coming up on June 10 at the Marine Room.  Jorgensen says it’s a “very, very fun event” that runs from 5-7:30 with “a great band for dancing and a terrific taco bar.”

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Dr. Korey Jorgensen somehow finds time to tend to his avocado tree

Laguna Beach HIV Advisory Council

And still Jorgensen finds the time to help more.  He is part of the city’s HIV Advisory Committee.  “It’s mostly to educate people about HIV and reduce the stigma of it,” he explains of the group’s purpose.  “The meetings are once a month.  They are outreach meetings.  This is not a charitable organization, but an advisory committee.  But I value my involvement.  I’m the only doctor.  The rest are concerned citizens – about 20 – who get together.”  The group meets on the first Thursday of every month from 4-5 p.m.  Check the city’s website for more information.

And still more interests…

Jorgensen does have interests outside of his philanthropic work, though when he has the time to indulge in them is a mystery.  “I own and manage three apartment buildings in town.  And I enjoy doing that.  I enjoy going to the museum for music.  I love the (Laguna) Playhouse, No Square Theater and Theater Out in Santa Ana.  It’s a gay-themed theater, like No Square, with amateur actors and lots of energy, signing and dancing.  It’s really a lot of fun,” he says.

Homework, snack and a standing handball game

However, it seemed pretty obvious during our conversation that the thing he enjoys most occurs every Wednesday.  “My son and daughter-in-law live close by.  I spend every Wednesday with my grandson who is eight.  I pick him up after school and we do homework, play handball, have a snack…it’s really, really great.  He loves coming over,” says Jorgensen with satisfaction.   

Which makes me think that in addition to continuing his lifelong work helping others, Dr. Jorgensen’s got game.  

Eight year olds are known to take their handball pretty seriously.

 

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