Louisville Community Acupuncture: ‘The Best Pricks in Town’

Louisville Community Acupuncture, run by husband and wife, Mike Sobin and Margaret Travis, merges the ancient Oriental healthcare technique with modern social-justice philosophies. The clinic has a sliding-fee scale and even a Free Pricks Day every May 1, which is also May Day, an international day honoring workers. The payment scale helps ensure that more people can afford treatment, which, Sobin and Travis said, can take more than one visit to work. “We have three goals — to provide affordable, accessible acupuncture; to create living-wage jobs; and to break even, “ said Sobin. We had a chance to talk with the couple about acupuncture and their unusual business model:

LEO: How does acupuncture help common health issues?

Mike Sobin: Acupuncture offers relief from many ailments. Chronic and acute pain relief and management, allergies, sports injuries, [irritable bowel syndrome], poor sleep, gynecological concerns including regulating cycles, PTSD, addiction, asthma, poor digestion, anxiety, even sugar addicts, surgery support (pre and post), and one of the greatest benefits of acupuncture: is stress reduction. Stress is often a common denominator of health issues, so managing it helps to maintain optimal health.

How was the model for the LCA created, and why does it work?

MS: We learned about the Community Acupuncture method through Lisa Rohleder in Portland, Oregon. She founded the organization called the Peoples Organization of Community Acupuncture. She uses the phrase, Social Justice Health Care, and her goal is simply stated as: ‘Offering high-volume, low cost, community-based services.’ We have adopted this model, and it has been really successful for us in our first two years of business.

Margaret Travis: When you come to our clinic, your experience is different from that at most other local acupuncture places. We treat everyone in one large room. Most other service providers are more like a boutique: one-on-one needling in a private room. Utilizing our space keeps our costs down, which in turn keeps our fees down. Another benefit of the community model is that the acupuncturist can earn a sustainable living. Often that is not the case with other models, as overhead is usually quite high. Because our sliding scale makes treatment available to everyone, the client, the clinic and the community all benefit. We rely on the community to support us … More clients allow us to expand our schedule and our staff, offering more access to others, so again, everyone benefits. We find a leveling-off point where we can still serve our clients with attention and quality and sustain a living for us. We know that our potential salaries eventually cap out, and we still feel like we contribute greatly to the support of our local economy.

Why is LCA ‘the best prick in town’?

MT: We offer acupuncture treatments on a sliding scale in a comfortable group setting. You pick what you pay: We accept payment between $15 and $35 a session, and there is no proof of income required. Our clinic is also successful because of the commitment from our clients. They understand this long-term method of treatment. Often acupuncture treatment is something that requires more than one session. It is not usually a one-and-done method. Chronic conditions need long-term treatment. Many of our patients put wear and tear on their bodies just in their daily lives. [Firefighters], servers, teachers and new moms are some examples. It is impossible for them to not be those people, or do those things. Aches and pains will show up because of the nature of how they operate on a daily basis. As a result, long-term care is needed. We make it easy and affordable for folks to get the long-term treatment they need and heal successfully.

MS: Another way we believe it keeps us sustainable and, therefore, successful is that when folks are being treated in a group setting, even if they are not speaking, there is a sense of compassion for others. The group setting becomes very welcoming as clients feel supported by others just by being in the same room. People create the community that they want!

How did you Texans land here in Louisville?

MT: We researched several cities and quickly found that there are a much smaller number of acupuncturists in Louisville, and we love it!

LCA has a sliding-scale payment method. Break it down for our readers.

MS: It is confusing to most, as we are all used to paying a set price. We love the flexibility it gives us and the clients. Sometimes a patient will pay us at the bottom end of the scale ($15), and then next week, they have had a great week and will pay at the top ($35) or more. This creates a nice cash flow to continue to serve others. We never ask for proof of income, which is a subtle nudge to remind our patients that they are involved in this process as well. It helps those that need to get treatment long-term, and they know that they can afford the cost.

MT: For those that cannot even afford the sliding scale we offer options: We offer a Free Pricks Day every May 1 (May Day), and it coincides with Social Workers day! We also run specials periodically. No one gets turned away! •

Flannery is a wellness coach who teaches yoga in Louisville and Southern Indiana. She promotes wellness through her show “The Wellness Hour,” at 11 a.m. Sundays on 100.9 WCHQ.