In a darkened room ten strangers nap in easy chairs. They lie back, pant legs and sleeves rolled up, snoring gently. Needles dot their skin. They are receiving health care. The same scene repeats in more than 200 community-based acupuncture clinics all over the U.S.
In 2002 partners Lisa Rohleder and Skip Van Meter had been Licensed Acupuncturists for several years and had good results. But, like most U.S. acupuncturists, they spent hours with each patient and charged high fees. Lisa had grown up in a working-class family and, as acupuncturists, they both now made working-class salaries. It made them sad that people from their own Portland, Oregon neighborhood could not afford the healthcare they provided. So they decided to change the way they offered their service and not be sad.
Borrowing a clinic model from China, they got several reclining chairs and rented a building with large rooms. Skip and Lisa told their neighbors to come get acupuncture at an affordable price. The unusual thing was that patients had to be in rooms with each other. But people came. They told Lisa and Skip: “My back hurts all the time from working in a factory.” “I have debilitating anxiety.” “I take seven medications for my diabetes.” “I want to stop smoking.” They lay in the chairs and got poked and most of them felt better. They came back and brought their friends and family.
Around the country acupuncturists heard what was happening in Portland. Wanting to provide more care to more people, many have opened practices based on Lisa and Skip’s model of high volume with low overhead. To support this movement, the clinics and their patients incorporated into a multi-stake holder cooperative in 2011, The People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA). Not only can the clinics now support each other, this cooperative changes perceptions about acupuncture and health care provision in general.
Acupuncture is not common in the U.S., especially for working class families. For most patients, visiting a POCA clinic is very different from any healthcare they have imagined. There are no doctors in white coats and no pharmaceutical prescriptions.
Perhaps the greatest difference, however, is that there are no unintelligible, high-priced bills. Currently, in the U.S., medical expenses are the principal cause of personal bankruptcy. Everyday more individuals go without primary, preventative healthcare. Lead by Lisa and Skip, the members of POCA have come together to provide an antidote to this health care crisis.