When the City of Berkeley, Calif., was looking for ways to reduce aggressive panhandling by homeless people in the mid-1990s, the community got some much-needed help in the person, practice, and philosophy of Hope McDonnell.
A licensed acupuncturist, McDonnell approached the City with a pilot program to address the real problems behind the panhandling: substance abuse and mental illness in the homeless population. The Acupuncture Detoxification Clinic McDonnell founded in March 1995 has become a one-stop shop for wraparound services on demand, combining acupuncture with more traditional chemical dependency treatment approaches such as counseling and case management.
A Proven Approach
The clinic follows the protocol of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA), treating chemical dependency through auricular acupuncture – applying needles to five points of the ear. According to Jay Renaud, office manager at NADA, there are 725 similar acupuncture detox programs nationwide that operate with a state license, and probably many more in practice.
"Auricular acupuncture is a straighter shot to the brain, so the brain function is better," McDonnell said. "And it dumps out toxins, so they feel better emotionally and physically."
At Berkeley Primary Care where the clinic is located, as many as 40 people drop in daily for a 30- to 45-minute acupuncture treatment, Monday through Friday. Thanks to the group setting, a single state- and NADA protocol-certified acupuncturist can take care of everyone.
"For a lot of people, it's a sanctuary – a quiet, safe place where they don't have to worry," McDonnell said.
Effective and Cost-Effective
Clients say that the clinic is also a healing place. In quarterly self-reporting surveys, 87 percent to 93 percent of clients consistently stated that the acupuncture was helping them reduce symptoms and usage, according to McDonnell. "They wouldn't get their ears poked every day if it wasn't helping them," she said.
The clinic offers full-body acupuncture on Mondays and Thursdays for clients who are HIV positive or have a referral from one of the clinic's doctors.
Staff also works closely with the other city and county agencies to provide case management, mental health, housing and food referrals, and nutritional counseling in one location.
"We can get costs down and address the other services they need," McDonnell said. This is especially important for clients, given that 70 percent to 75 percent of them have dual diagnoses (chemical dependency and mental health issues).
The clinic's innovative approach and coordinated care provide faster, easier access for patients and offer a successful alternative to costly and often inappropriate emergency room visits.
Although the program is more cost-effective than traditional practice, the clinic's funding continues to be stretched to the limit. The clinic welcomes donations of money and supplies. For more information or to support the program, contact McDonnell at email@example.com.
The Acupuncture Detoxification Clinic is a unit of Berkeley Primary Care, a LifeLong Medical Care health center (www.lifelongmedical.org).