People's Organization of Community Acupuncture_POCA_fullBy Sara Calabro

In hopes of expanding its mission and scope, the community acupuncture movement has adopted a co-op model. The People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture, cleverly abbreviated POCA, is a multi-stakeholder cooperative that will allow patients to put muscle behind the movement.

When many of us think “co-op,” we think “food.” In a typical food co-op, shoppers pay dues and work shifts in exchange for access to local groceries. One key difference between POCA and a food co-op is that unlike at most food co-ops, where only members can shop, patients are not required to join POCA in order to get treated at its clinics. Patients who do decide to become POCA members can elect to donate labor, either as hands-on supporters in their local community clinics or as administrative volunteers for POCA projects.

This leads to another distinction, which is more philosophical. Multi-stakeholder cooperatives are said to be “transformational rather than transactional.” In other words, they’re not about making money; they’re about making changes. Patients who donate their time to a community clinic do so as an expression of support for the movement. There is no quid pro quo.

POCA is more akin to a burgeoning model of food co-ops whose aim is not to offer good deals but rather to preserve the entire local food system. The goal is similar to POCA’s, to support healthier and more economically stable communities. Through POCA, everyone with an interest in making affordable acupuncture more accessible—from acupuncturists and community members to the local businesses that serve them—can participate in furthering the movement.

Why go co-op now?

Community acupuncture got real big real fast. In about five years, an experiment happening in a single clinic grew into a bonafide movement being passionately carried out at hundreds of community clinics throughout the world. The acupuncturists working at these clinics are only partly to thank for this phenomenon. Many of the thousands of patients who receive acupuncture in community settings are intensely eager to give something back.

“The goal with POCA is to become a better container for the reality that has emerged,” says Lisa Rohleder, the founder of Working Class Acupuncture who is credited with starting the community movement. “Patients are really interested in helping but there wasn’t a way for them to do that.”

The previous vehicle for supporting the community movement—the Community Acupuncture Network (CAN), a 501c6 non-profit—was focused exclusively on acupuncturists; there was no formal role for patients who wanted to contribute. By definition, a multi-stakeholder cooperative includes patients as key stakeholders, allowing them to invest in and help govern POCA.

How will POCA work?

Here’s an example of how patient involvement in the community movement might play out: A person lives in a town without any community acupuncture clinics. She wants access to affordable acupuncture, so she joins POCA and encourages her friends, family and neighbors to do the same. Once enough people from this town have joined POCA, their membership fees are used to finance a microloan to an acupuncturist who is willing to start a clinic in that location. As supporters of the movement, the POCA community members might donate their time to helping with reception, maintenance and other duties required at the new clinic.

In addition to patients and community members, POCA accepts investments (this includes membership fees as well as donations) from three other membership categories. These are the associated fees:

Patients/community members: $25 – $100 per year
Acupuncturists and acupuncture students: $45 – $200 per year
POCA clinics: $50 per year – 1% annual gross receipts
Organizations: $100 – $1,000 per year

A few more examples of how membership fees and donations could be put to work include the following: creating professional training programs for community acupuncturists, negotiating professional liability and health insurance for clinic members, providing support for clinic owners who need to hire additional acupuncturists, and funding scholarships for aspiring acupuncture students. An exhaustive list of POCA’s aims and intentions are available on its website.

In addition to the social and economic benefits of POCA, each level of membership comes with various perks. These include things like free treatment cards for patient/community members, access to CAN’s (now POCA’s) always enlightening sometimes rowdy online forums for acupuncturist and student members, inclusion on POCA’s Locate-a-Clinic listing for clinic members, and advertising opportunities for organizational members. Complete details of member benefits are outlined on the website.

What’s the difference between POCA and CAN?

A common criticism of CAN was that its guidelines for community clinics were too rigid, and unrealistic in certain regions. The reins are loosened slightly with POCA. The high end of the sliding scale has been increased to $50. This decision was based on the significant number of clinics that were operating with very community-minded intentions but slightly higher rates to accommodate rent and other costs that are greater in more expensive cities.

Also reflecting the reality on the ground, POCA allows hybrid clinics where both community and private treatments can take place. The guidelines clearly state that there can be no private-treatment requirement in order to gain access to community treatments, but private treatments can be offered as an option.

Where do I sign up for POCA?

Right here!

Photo by Sara Calabro

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