Acupuncture for All

Affordable treatment in group settings is catching on

| July-August 2008

  • Community Acupuncture

    image by the Philadelphia Community Acupuncture

  • Community Acupuncture

Skip Van Meter, an acupuncturist at Working Class Acupuncture in Portland, Oregon, led me into the treatment area and offered me a choice of recliners set in a series of living room–like groupings. I chose a seat in a softly lit circle where two people were reclined and napping with a fountain splashing in the background. Van Meter asked what ailed me, felt pulses at my wrist and neck, and then inserted a dozen hair-fine needles below my knees and elbows.

This treatment approach, called “community acupuncture” by its founders, is an alternative to standard acupuncture practice. Acupuncture can be effective, especially for chronic problems, but as a soon-to-graduate student of traditional Chinese medicine, I also knew it often requires multiple or frequent treatments. With fees averaging $65 per visit nationwide, who can afford results? Certainly not people who work part time or are retired, or the teachers, secretaries, and laborers I treated at my school clinic.

To correct this disparity, Lisa Rohleder, Skip Van Meter, and Lupine Hudson founded Working Class Acupuncture (WCA): a low-cost, community-supported acupuncture clinic that pays its staff a living wage. They opened the clinic in 2002 and a couple of years ago launched the nonprofit Community Acupuncture Network to spread their idea nationwide.

Acupuncture is inherently low cost and adaptable to any setting. The cost of disposable needles is just a few dollars per treatment. In the United States, however, private treatment rooms and lengthy one-on-one sessions with practitioners increase costs. At WCA, patients are scheduled at 10-minute intervals and are treated in a shared area. Payment is on a $15 to $35 sliding scale. The clinic sees some 400 patients a week at an average rate of $19 per visit.

Everyone gets a choice of recliner, a short whispered consultation with an acupuncturist, quick treatment while sitting comfortably and fully clothed, and the opportunity to doze off in a relaxing setting for minutes or hours. People come for everyday ailments such as backache, asthma, migraine, arthritis, common cold, indigestion, and food or drug cravings. The group setting creates a collective healing energy where friends can be treated together or newcomers can watch a treatment before being needled themselves.

The low fees enable clients to afford enough treatment to obtain good results. Over time, they come to see acupuncturists as health partners rather than remote experts. Vito, a WCA patient, sees his treatments as “taking myself in for a tune-up. It’s managed health care with me in the driver’s seat.”

jill allison
7/23/2008 4:22:48 PM

The community acupuncture clinic at Country Doctor clinic in Seattle Washington is a unique entity. I do acupuncture in a conventional medical low income clinic. This model provides a way to make acupuncture available to everyone. This is a fee for service acupuncture clinic that charges the sliding scale fee from $15 to $35. The money earned by this clinic also helps suppport the conventional medical clinic. It is a wonderful thing that can be enjoyed by all.

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