Acupuncture for everyone
Community acupuncture gains popularity in Chico
Until very recently, Trisha Coeder had experienced shooting pain in her legs since giving birth in 2008. “If I sat for more than 15 minutes and tried to get up, the pain was almost crippling,” recalled Coeder, relaxing in a La-Z-Boy reclining chair at the Pinwheel Community Acupuncture Project clinic on Flume Street one recent cold evening. Coeder’s doctor, who thought perhaps she had suffered nerve damage as a result of an epidural administered during labor, had recommended acupuncture.
Coeder had started off treatment at a private-room acupuncturist, “but it was 80 dollars a treatment, and it wasn’t covered by my insurance,” she said, so she ended up trying the new, inexpensive model of acupuncture offered at Pinwheel—community acupuncture, where a number of clients at a time receive treatment in a tranquil common area.
“After three treatments, I was … running around with my 3 1/2-year-old like I’ve never done,” said Coeder, “and all my friends are like, ‘Wow! What happened to you?’”
Chico now houses three community-acupuncture clinics: Pinwheel, which opened in June; Chico Community Acupuncture, which has been treating patients since April 2010 (and was voted Best Alternative Health-Care Provider in the CN&R’s 2011 readers’ poll); and Acupuncture and Herbs, which began offering community-style acupuncture in addition to private-room acupuncture in January 2010. All three clinics are committed to providing the ancient Chinese treatment—which utilizes slender needles strategically inserted into various points on the body to treat a variety of ailments—and to helping patients such as Coeder via a bold re-envisioning of how to administer acupuncture.
The revolutionary change? The price. Services are offered for a sliding scale price of $15 to $35 (or, in the case of Acupuncture and Herbs, $20 to $40). The cost is less than many patients’ copay for a visit to a Western-style (conventional) doctor. And, as Pinwheel licensed acupuncturist Michelle Faucher noted, plenty of patients lack health insurance entirely. This model has proven affordable for the insured and uninsured alike.
“The goal is access—for lots of people,” explained Faucher recently. Instead of a private room, community-acupuncture clinics offer services in a large room, utilizing a handful or more of recliners arranged in a circle. The acupuncturist moves among the clients, instead of focusing on just one. The single-patient model is “not required for acupuncture to work,” said Faucher. “The needles do the work.”
And, unlike private-room settings, community acupuncture typically utilizes only points on the arms, hands, legs, feet, ears and head, and not the rest of the body, so patients do not need to undress. “There’s so much of the body that we can access without the patient being naked, face down on a table,” offered Olivia Peters-Lazaro, of Chico Community Acupuncture.
After a short intake session to cover medical history, visitors to Peters-Lazaro’s Village Lane clinic are welcomed into a cozy, warm, lemon-yellow treatment room, decorated with rotating exhibits of artwork by Chico-area artists. Each patient selects a chair, rolls up her or his sleeves and pant-legs, and relaxes. After Peters-Lazaro has inserted the needles—she says she typically uses between three and 10—the patient rests for approximately 30 minutes to an hour.
Does it hurt?
“There are sensations,” Peters-Lazaro said. “We’re doing acupuncture to have a change in the body, so I do tell people there should be sensations, but they should be comfortable.”
Peters-Lazaro has treated patients aged one week through 99 years old. Patients’ ailments are diverse, she said: “I treat a lot of back pain, neck pain, arthritis, insomnia, digestive issues.”
Faucher similarly sees a broad range of problems. On a recent Wednesday evening at Pinwheel, six chairs were occupied, with Faucher treating patients for skin problems, insomnia, depression, immunity issues and chronic back pain. The patients’ backgrounds were equally diverse: a young tattooed man in a baseball cap, a middle-aged man in a tucked-in flannel shirt and jeans, an older woman, a young mom. Patients relaxed to a CD of choral music, which was occasionally interrupted by the slight squeak of the door opening and closing, as patients arrived and departed.
Adam Moes, of Chapmantown’s Acupuncture and Herbs, celebrates the new form. “It’s pretty much how Chinese medicine is practiced in China,” said Moes. After eight years of doing private-room acupuncture in Chico, he phased out insurance billing (insurance companies are not very receptive to the sliding-scale concept) and began offering community acupuncture.
“The model of one client in their own room for an hour session is something that was developed in the West because we’re more private people,” Moes explained. His practice is now 75 to 80 percent community-style acupuncture.
Community-acupuncture clinics are popping up across the country, and many have joined forces under a cooperative playfully named POCA—the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture—of which Pinwheel and Chico Community Acupuncture are members. Faucher, who calls herself the “unoffical cartographer” of the movement, remembers back in 2008 when she tallied just 60 community clinics in the United States. Three years later, the number is 250.
POCA will soon allow patients to join the co-op, and has begun a microlending project. “If a bunch of patients [in one area] want a clinic, POCA now has a way of pooling that interest and funding it” through their website and microlending program, Faucher said.
Interest in community acupuncture in Chico is growing by leaps and bounds. Peters-Lazaro and Faucher originally worked together in the Chico Community Acupuncture clinic, until Faucher branched off to open her own clinic during the summer. Each clinic is now looking to hire a second acupuncturist.
“I expect [patients] to get relief and benefit from just one treatment,” said Peters-Lazaro, “but then, by coming in for subsequent treatments, those treatments are going to build on the first treatment.”
Removing barriers to frequent treatment is key, Faucher said. The goal, she said, is “not dollars taken in or the bottom line, but the number of treatments given, because the method itself works, and with enough frequency, we can do a heck of a lot of good.”