Friday, November 15, 2013

Acupuncture for All: Alumna Leads Community Care Model

Sonja Sivesind, MSAOM ('08), LAc, joins a movement using group care to expand access to acupuncture.

Sivesind provices acupuncture to patient in recliner
Acupuncturist Sonja Sivesind treats a patient.

As an acupuncturist, Sonja Sivesind, MSAOM ('08), LAc, has learned to expect certain questions.

Does it feel like getting a flu shot? No.

Does it hurt? Sometimes a little, but not usually.

Can acupuncture treat insomnia? Depression? Allergies? Asthma? Infertility? Pain? Digestive problems? Yes to all, says Sivesind.

She hears one question that's unique to the Community Acupuncture Project, her clinic in a nondescript house in West Seattle: Should I bring my pay stub — or tax records?

No, she says. Like many health care clinics, hers offers a sliding fee scale. But it's based on trust, not tax receipts. The clinic doesn’t ask about personal finances, and patients pay what they feel they can afford, from $20 to $50 per visit. That allows the clinic to serve patients who couldn't otherwise afford acupuncture.

"The No. 1 goal is to try to be accessible to people who don't have insurance, don't have a job, or don't think of themselves as the typical acupuncture patient," says Sivesind, a graduate of Bastyr University's Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program. "We see a lot of working-class people, low-income people, and people who just don't go to a more boutique-style private experience."

Community Acupuncture Project uses a group setting that emphasizes frequent visits — an approach common in China, where patients often receive treatments several times a week. First-time patients have a private consultation with Sivesind or another practitioner, then move into a quiet room with five recliners. Patients sit and receive individualized acupuncture in the company of others.

They chat and sometimes fall asleep and let their calm influence each other. The open setting is a source of concern for some first-time patients — but a highlight for others.

"People talk about the space feeling calming," says Sivesind. "You're in a room with other people who are all there intentionally healing. It calms you."

There's a term for that energy: Collective qi. Qi is the underlying life force that traditional Chinese medicine seeks to restore (acupuncture is meant to reopen pathways for qi). There is clinical evidence that qi can be cultivated in groups as well as in individuals, Sivesind says.

A New Model

Clinic building in West SeattleCommunity Acupuncture Project opened its first location in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood in 2009, adding the West Seattle clinic two years later. It has grown mainly through word-of-mouth, with patients telling their family members and neighbors about their experiences. That helps win over skeptics or those who assume they can't afford acupuncture. It's one thing for a practitioner to tell you about the healing power of acupuncture, says Sivesind. It's even better to hear about it from your bank teller or barista.

The low rates emphasize the importance of frequent visits. Too often, says Sivesind, acupuncture patients stop treatment after the eight or 12 visits their insurance plan covers. By bypassing insurance, her clinic focuses on the evidence suggesting repeat visits are essential to acupuncture's effectiveness.

"People often say they felt pretty good coming in once a week, but when they started coming twice a week it really helped," says Sivesind.

After the initial visit, practitioners have chair-side conversations with patients before offering treatment. Instead of longer, infrequent intake sessions, they communicate briefly at each visit.

"Because we see them so often, there's time for them to say what's different and what's better," Sivesind says.

The setup has proved financially workable for the four practitioners split between the two clinics. Together, they saw more than 7,000 visits over the past 12 months.

Acupuncture leaders remain hopeful that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will expand insurance coverage for their medicine. Meanwhile, the community acupuncture model is spreading among practitioners who want to expand access to low-income patients without waiting for insurance systems to change.

"It's a fairly sustainable business model and it's a socially conscious business," says Julie Johnson of The Pin Cushion, another community clinic in Seattle. "As a practitioner, it's extremely frustrating to have a medicine that's so versatile and can help so many people, but to have it out of reach because it's too expensive. This allows people who are curious about acupuncture to come in and try it without making a huge investment."

Johnson and Sivesind have worked together through the People's Organization of Community Acupuncture to promote new clinics, an effort they describe as more collaborative than competitive. That's been a way for Sivesind to connect her past as a community activist with her work as a health practitioner.

Group Energy

Patients receive treatment on reclinersSivesind grew up in Bellevue, Washington, and chose Bastyr's program because of its emphasis on clinical training. At Bastyr's Seattle teaching clinic, she worked with HIV/AIDS patients, learning to provide immune wellness. At the University's off-site clinics around the area, she worked with immigrants, retirement home residents and other groups who often couldn't afford acupuncture, something she wanted to continue. When she learned about the community model from Working Class Acupuncture in Portland, Oregon, she discovered it could be a viable business model.

"I thought I would need to write grants to provide acupuncture to under-served communities," she says. "This business model is much more sustainable."

In spring 2013, Community Acupuncture Project hired another Bastyr graduate, Emily Paul, LAc, MSAOM ('12), who was also shaped by her time in the University’s off-site clinics. She's been struck by the way patients pass knowledge and encouragement to each other in the group treatment rooms.

"It's a different approach than working with one person for an hour in a room," says Paul. "The group energy reinforces the healing process for everybody. That's been really interesting to see."

New Outlook

Pracitioners smiles with patientFor Sivesind, one challenge is that patients often come to acupuncture after they've tried everything else. They come after difficult experiences with conventional medicine and often have layered health problems. Difficulty sleeping is common for them.

"As practitioners, we get hard cases," says Sivesind. "Sometimes it's hard to know where to start. Patients may not get a total cure at once, but they keep coming back because acupuncture makes them feel better."

As they return, they may bring a family member, a neighbor or simply a smile that reveals their newfound comfort.

"It's rewarding to work in a place where everybody is happy to see you," says Sivesind. "There's a transformation that happens when people feel physically better. It affects their outlook and their ability to make eye contact with people, and just makes them feel a little more loved."

----

Learn more about Bastyr’s programs in acupuncture and East Asian medicine.

Subscribe to Newsletters

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Events

Apr 26 Continuing Ed

Fine tune your skills diagnosing and treating trauma with Chinese medicine. We will discuss the heart/kidney axis as the physiological foundation of stability and how to restore integrity to this most important relationship.
April 26-27, Sat-Sun, 9a.m.-5p.m.
Instructor: Lonny Jarrett, MAc, MS, FNAAOM.
(13 CEUs, PDAs, CPEUs)

Apr 26

The gluten-free diet (GFD) is now a multi-billion dollar industry gaining in popularity with the general public. Gluten sensitivity is a controversial subject, where patients who have neither celiac disease (CD) nor wheat allergy have varying degrees of symptomatic improvement on the GFD. Dive deeper into the world of gluten for your own health or the health of your patients.
April 26, Sat, 9a.m.-5p.m.
Instructor: Tom O’Bryan, DC, CCN, DACB.
(6.5 CEUs, CMEs, CPEUs)

Apr 28 Continuing Ed

Zero Balancing (ZB) is an innovative, holistic and powerful manual therapy for integrating the body’s energy and structure. ZB mobilizes held energy at the bone layer thus releasing held tensions in the more superficial tissues and layers of the body/mind and throughout the entire system. Zero Balancing helps one feel stable, grounded, clear, connected, happy, relaxed, energized, youthful, and oneself at a deeper level.
April 28, Mon, 6:30-8:30p.m.
Instructor: Michael Oruch, MFA.
(FREE – Pre-registration required)

Recent News

Naturopathic doctors can become licensed health care providers as Maryland becomes the latest state recognizing naturopathic medicine.

David Tolmie, BS ('06), MLIS, combines psychology and technology skills to help students navigate the fast-changing world of evidence-informed medicine.

Coquina Deger, MBA, and David Siebert fill key roles as part of President’s Cabinet

Herbal sciences students cook up foods with love -- and health-giving herbs -- in a popular lab class.

The actor and author joins us for a Q-and-A before her May 22 talk at Bastyr's Spring for Health Luncheon.

Press

Bastyr University Nutrition Faculty Member Receives Prestigious State Honor

The public is invited to a free community event to explore Bastyr University’s teaching clinic

Teaching clinic earns second consecutive year of stellar results in regional patient satisfaction survey

In the Media

FOX Q13: Bastyr University's Ellie Freeman Discusses the FDA’s New Food Labels
Bothell-Kenmore Reporter: Bastyr Center for Natural Health Expands Integrative Oncology Services
Puget Sound Business Journal: Bastyr University's President Daniel Church to Retire

Health Tips

It's important to be mindful about how we use technology. Here are some tips for a healthful relationship with digital technology.

Here are some ways to eat an inexpensive and well-balanced diet consisting of many nutritious whole foods.

Here's how to create a healthy posture to improve your health.

The main benefit of the Paleo diet is that it promotes eating whole, nutritious foods while avoiding refined, processed foods.

While tax season can be daunting and stressful, these are simple, easy ways to help lighten the load.