Chico acupuncture clinic offers affordable, accessible treatment
Olivia Peters-Lazaro was about halfway through her studies at Five Branches University in Santa Cruz when the economy tanked. She was working on her master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine, a degree she completed two years later, in 2009, shortly before returning to Chico, her hometown.
In April of the following year, Peters-Lazaro, who had become a licensed acupuncturist, opened Chico Community Acupuncture, a clinic with a novel way of working with the public: allowing patients to pay on a sliding scale. That model, she said, was inspired by Portland, Ore.-based Working Class Acupuncture, a clinic that helped to found the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture, a cooperative dedicated to increasing the accessibility of affordable acupuncture. Not surprisingly, Chico Community Acupuncture is a member of the co-op.
And that model has worked. The clinic will celebrate its third year in business this April, offering affordable care to the public and, as Peters-Lazaro noted, providing jobs.
“I feel incredibly proud to be able to come back to come back to Chico and serve the community,” said Peters-Lazaro, whose business employs another acupuncturist, Hopi Wilder, as well as two part-time receptionists.
Chico Community Acupuncture doesn’t accept insurance. However, patients can use funds through a health savings account. Those used to paying medical bills through insurance are looking at a fee fairly equivalent to a physician’s co-pay, and, in many cases these days, perhaps less expensive.
The sliding scale ranges from $15 to $35 per session, depending on how much the client is able to afford. Peters-Lazaro is able to offer that much flexibility in the fee by treating multiple clients simultaneously in the clinic’s common space. Her clinic was the first in Chico to focus exclusively on community acupuncture, but the model is available elsewhere in town. Downtown’s Pinwheel Community Acupuncture Project is dedicated to the practice, and longtime Chico acupuncturist Adam Moes started offering community acupuncture in addition to private acupuncture at his established business, Acupuncture and Herbs, a few months before Chico Community Acupuncture opened its doors.
Peters-Lazaro said community acupuncture patients are more relaxed in knowing they aren’t breaking the bank.
“You’re not lying on a table thinking about spending $60,” she said. “One of the common comments I hear [from clients] is, ‘Yes, acupuncture helps, but I wasn’t able to come back.’”
The community acupuncture model helps to eliminate that barrier, since repeated sessions may be necessary for many ailments.
That was the case for Carrie Givan, who was spending between $50 and $150 per treatment when she lived in Southern California. She found Chico Community Acupuncture shortly after coming to Chico last spring, having moved here to lie low and recuperate from the chronic pain and chronic fatigue she suffered as a result of fibromyalgia.
“It’s been a godsend,” Givan said enthusiastically. “It really is a dream come true.”
Under the sliding scale, she could afford to go four to five days a week, as opposed to once or twice a month. For her, that level of treatment greatly aided her recovery. Givan said she no longer takes medications, and although she employs other methods of Eastern medicine, she credits the majority of her healing solely to acupuncture.
James Sprague, who has suffered with chronic pain from fibromyalgia for 20 years, can relate. “It’s just one of those things that doctors don’t have much to give you for,” he said of his condition.
Sprague tried acupuncture years ago for a couple of months but, due to the cost, could afford to go only once a week. He heard about Chico Community Acupuncture through word of mouth and started treatments there about nine months ago, numerous times per week. Back then, his pain level averaged seven on a scale of one to 10, and today it averages between one and five.
“It’s just been amazing for me,” he said. “I’d been seen by a number of doctors … Some of them threw up their hands.”
Sprague’s wife, Suzy, a nurse for 30 years who works 12-hour shifts and has knee issues, was inspired by her husband’s successes with acupuncture to also seek treatments. She said her knee now feels more stable.
Peters-Lazaro sees clients of all walks of life and ages and recalled looking into the treatment room recently and seeing, “a lawyer, a family therapist, a contractor and a hair stylist,” among others.
The clinic’s communal-style treatment takes place in a soothing atmosphere in which patients lie in recliners and are welcome to relax for as long as they need, rather than the stricter time constraints of a one-on-one appointment in a private room. Treatment among other clients in the same room may sound a little unorthodox, but Peters-Lazaro said it creates a sense of community for the patients, many of whom say the method fosters health and healing.
“[The acupuncturists] set the healing energy like I’ve never experienced before, and all of the patients are there for the same purpose,” Givan said. “But once they roll up next to you, it’s unbelievable how intimate it actually feels. They just have the best bedside manner.”