Community acupuncture clinics say they can’t open under new guidelines

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Manchester Acupuncture Studio. Courtesy Photo

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Gov. Chris Sununu approved reopening guidelines last week for acupuncture clinics, which will be able to open to the public June 1. But some community clinics in New Hampshire say they will still not be able to open because of the nature of their practice.

Community acupuncture clinics offer treatment to multiple patients at the same time “by financially sustainable and accountable means,” according to the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture.

But the state guidelines under Sununu’s “Stay at Home 2.0” order mandate that the number of patients may not exceed the number of staff performing services, and that no more than 10 people can be in a facility at one time.

This makes it impossible for clinics like the non-profit Manchester Acupuncture Studio Manchester to open, says Executive Director Andy Wegman, since the ratio of customers to clinicians limits how many people can be treated each day.

“It would be a financially losing matter to open our doors and only see one patient an hour, or even two patients an hour. It just does not work for us,” Wegman says. “We wouldn’t be able to meet payroll or rent, let alone all the other expenses that are elevated these days with the inclusion of PPE, disinfectant, cleaning supplies, never mind air conditioning.”

The New Hampshire Acupuncture and Medicine Association represents over 30 acupuncturists across the state, with at least four community clinics in Manchester, Nashua, Dover and Portsmouth. 

Wegman’s facility in Manchester is about 2,500 square feet, he says, and his team has planned how they would safely administer treatment with one staff member and multiple customers.

“There’s plenty of space for 8-10 feet between chairs, we figured that everyone would have their own 300-500 feet of space around them. People would be wearing masks, patients and staff, all the other provisions that would need to be in place for a safe clinical experience these days,” Wegman said.

With locations in both Nashua and Manchester, Wegman’s practice offers services on a sliding scale of $20 to $40 to make acupuncture more accessible and affordable to those who need it. He says he gives about 25,000 treatments every year across his two clinics. Many of his patients come in regularly to treat chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia and stress. 

Manchester Acupuncture studio in Nashua. Courtesy Photo

“I mean, if there were ever a time for a drug-free remedy to help mitigate those ailments, the time would be now,” he said.

Emily Pendergast, who owns Portsmouth Community Acupuncture, has been in touch with some of her female patients who were trying to get pregnant, but had to cut off treatment, as well as with those dealing with chronic pain.

“A lot of them with pain issues are really struggling because they don’t want to have to resort to opiates or other forms of pain management,” Pendergast said. 

Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs and a member of the governor’s economic reopening task force, defended the guidelines, explaining that they line up with universal recommendations issued by the CDC.

“We’re moving as fast as we can. We’re always going to be looking for how we can continue to open more businesses,” Caswell said. “Restaurants are a good example. Right now we’re only able to have outdoor dining if that capacity is available, and that isn’t available for every restaurant, unfortunately.”

Wegman says he has reached out to the task force with his concerns about what the guidelines mean for community acupuncture clinics in New Hampshire. Ed Butler, who led the task force on acupuncture guidance, did not respond to requests for comment.

Wegman has launched a petition asking the state to end one-on-one patient/practitioner limits on acupuncturists.

Pendergast said she wasn’t planning on reopening her clinic until July 1 despite guidance that said clinics could reopen a month earlier. But unlike Wegman’s clinic, Portsmouth Community Acupuncture is not a nonprofit, and is therefore not eligible for grants and CARES relief funding that has recently been allocated to nonprofits. It has put her and her business in a precarious position.

“If it’s just till July, I’m okay with that because I’m still in the process of getting all my supplies and protective equipment in. But if it’s long term, we’re going to be in big trouble because I’m basically living off a business loan, and obviously that’s not going to last forever,” she said.

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