It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway): lots of things (everything?) had to change and adapt starting in early 2020. Whether it was work life, home life, school life, or our suddenly isolated social lives everything changed in one way or another that March. Change is never easy, at least for me, but being tossed into a collective EVERYthing is changing all at once, right now! scenario was really, really hard. It was really hard on POCA too. But in all the ways that matter the shutdown caused by the pandemic was actually a well-timed blessing for our acupuncture organization.
The writing had been on the wall for a long time but we were all too busy making things happen, keepin’ up and keepin’ on, or taking it all for granted to pay all that much attention to the message. The writing was on the wall, or really it was more like the voice of a really reasonable phantom. This phantom living inside of our co-op’s crumbling infrastructure (one held together with bubble gum, duct tape, and goodwill) had been whispering to us for years that things really weren’t sustainable. The whispers grew louder…. Seriously y’all, do something before it’s too late! POCA needed to devote some serious attention to its infrastructure but nobody had the time (or desire) to actually dive in and get gum in their hair. And/or there didn’t seem to be much interest, or maybe nobody was brave enough, to really peel things back and see what might be under all that tape.
This will absolutely be the only time I ever say this (and only in relation to POCA’s needs at the time)……Yay, Pandemic Shutdown!! Seriously though, if it hadn’t been for the huge chunk of time that was freed up when the world (and all of our clinics) closed then POCA’s General Circle and our other trusty volunteers may have kept ignoring the phantom’s pleading. Luckily, a group of us finally decided to listen, and more importantly we decided to act!
Instead of speculating (for very long, anyway) about how long we might survive if we kept things as they were, the decision was made to completely overhaul and downsize the entire organization. We took it to the studs. It was an immense amount of work (and at times it felt thankless) but by the end of 2021 POCA had legally dissolved the co-op entity it had been inhabiting since 2011 and we settled back into the cozier, much more sturdy, and easier to manage 501c6 entity, created in 2006, that had previously housed CAN (Community Acupuncture Network). We took a look around before we moved in and didn’t find any traces of tape or gum! We did find some leftover goodwill patiently waiting for us in the corners, though. You can read more about that transition process here. We painstakingly created, and actually executed, a real, live sustainability plan. I won’t make you wait until the end of this report to let you know: It worked!!
It is a fascinating time to be working for and helping run a national acupuncture organization. Maybe you’ve heard rumblings and rumors of the acupocalypse? If you’re dialed into the current state of the acupuncture profession at all it is becoming harder and harder to deny that the rumors may, in fact, be true: I lovingly call these “truemors”.
Schools are closing at an alarming rate, enrollments are way down. Therefore, fewer and fewer people are entering the profession and those who do are usually entering it with crippling debt. Folks are also leaving the profession because they can’t make it work, they can’t make a living doing acupuncture. Sadly, this part is not a new phenomenon. And those who’ve been around, and running successful practices, since the days when getting an acupuncture education didn’t also come with a side of lifelong debt, are slowly retiring.
Instead of addressing these problems head-on, our national certifying body (NCCAOM) and various national and state professional associations (one of which is ASA) appear to be solely focused on getting Medicare inclusion for acupuncturists passed while conveniently sweeping all those pesky facts and statistics under the rug. Nothing to see here…carry on. Yay, Medicare! These facts and potential truemors actually do seem to forecast the coming of the acupocalypse, though.
It’s too soon to know exactly what will happen to acupuncture as a stand-alone profession in the US but again, the writing has been on the wall for a long time. But unlike POCA, it doesn’t look like our organizations and schools are listening to the whispers coming from within their own (possibly unstable) walls. It doesn’t appear that anyone is ready to act, nothing is being overhauled. Who knows? There may actually be lots of ongoing speculation (behind closed doors) about how much time is really left.
POCA is, very purposefully, pretty different from other acupuncture organizations. While we’ve always had to operate within, and play by the rules of, the larger profession (in terms of education, licensing, etc.) we were always writing, re-writing, and using a different playbook in our ongoing effort to expand access to affordable acupuncture care. As mentioned above, CAN was the organizational predecessor to what would eventually become a large and vibrant multi-stakeholder co-op, POCA.
CAN grew into POCA, and then POCA grew….and grew, and grew…. into itself, really. The co-op grew robust enough to host large in-person conferences all over the US, and even one in Toronto. We created a network of (almost always available) “clinic success” mentors to help clinic owners or punks who were new and/or struggling. We developed an affordable CEU program with amazing courses geared directly towards community acupuncturists. We fundraised in order to conduct a much needed job task analysis. We had an incredible micro-loan program that was instrumental in helping new clinics launch in underserved areas. We created and implemented a new Auricular Acu-Technician training and certification program….more on that later! Our finances were such that we were able to, for many years, make sizable contributions to POCA Tech while the new school was getting off the ground. We worked on important legislative measures in various states, supporting our mission to expand, not restrict, access to care for those who need(ed) us most. In short, we were doing great work and somehow it all worked….until it didn’t.
So POCA has had all of these different iterations of itself. We still have, and rely on, the collective history of our acupuncture organization. In recognizing the variety, and positive impact, of the good work we’ve done, and the fun we’ve had along the way, I think……at the end of the day, one thing has been, and remains, true……as a primary focus, POCA has always intended to be useful. And well, it’s pretty hard to be useful if you’re dead! I’m extremely grateful that POCA didn’t die and I’m very proud to have had a hand in keeping it alive. A giant thanks to the rest of you who put in the tireless work to make sure we got things squared away. Thank you for understanding and believing that big change was absolutely necessary for our survival and for helping to create and maintain an infrastructure that gives us the chance to keep being useful for years to come!
As mentioned above, our sustainability plan worked, so let’s dig into what things look like now and take a look at some of the useful stuff we did in 2022. Well first, a little backstory. When we dissolved the co-op and overhauled POCA we went from a previous annual budget of $100+k to a proposed budget of around $25k. We were *pretty* sure we could swing that but during such uncertain times we really couldn’t be certain of anything. We’d been running the co-op at an annual loss for several years. The losses weren’t huge but they were steadily gobbling up POCA’s cash reserves.
This newest version of POCA was intentionally structured to survive on next to nothing while still having solid enough underpinnings to grow and expand if/when needed. If we’d had to fully bunker down, or “turtle up” (as Andy Wegman so eloquently put it) and simply weather the storm while we figured out how or where we might be useful again we could have done that, sustainably. I’m thrilled to report that in 2022 (the first full year since restructuring) we exceeded our budget projections by around $13k and actually finished the year with almost $12k in net income. After running in the red for years I think that’s pretty incredible! See budget breakdown graphs below.
So what else has been happenin’ out there? Well the biggest news is that POCA’s AAT (Auricular Acu-Technician) certification program really took off in 2022. The growth is accelerating even faster in 2023! The program was developed and started in 2019 with the following mission: to train and support as many people as possible to become Auricular Acu-Technicians (AATs) and use the 5 Needle Protocol in their work and communities as supportive treatment for substance use disorders, trauma, and mental health issues. You can read more about our mission, vision, and values here.
Understandably, the program’s momentum was slowed by the pandemic but we still managed to host a handful of trainings between 2019-2021, resulting in 24 newly certified trainees. In 2022 there were a total of 8 POCA trainings in 6 different states. We issued 149 new AAT certificates in 2022! This year is shaping up to be even better with 14 training events already in the books or scheduled to occur soon. There was even a training in the Canadian Arctic, see below for more details. POCA currently has 26 active trainers who have worked with a grand total of 372 trainees over the last 4+ years!
Retired federal judge, 5NP advocacy leader, and POCA trainer/AAT Charles Pyle has this to say about the value of the protocol and the critical importance of working to expand the ways and settings in which we are able to deliver it.
The explosion of drug overdose deaths during the fentanyl crisis, increases in gun violence and mass shootings, the relentless multi-generational traumatic impact of mass incarceration and, of course, the death, fear and isolation caused by the pandemic, make it clear that our country could use many more AATs. But a meaningful response to these and other crises requires more than just teaching the 5-points. We must create opportunities for AATs to quickly and effectively get into the community to provide 5NP. Eliminating statutory and regulatory restrictions is step one. Reaching out to collaborate with any of the many community groups impacted by trauma is the most important and ongoing need we must attend to. Successful community collaborations greatly increase access to 5NP as well as opportunities for AATs to serve their communities.
Any doubt about POCA’s path forward or the organization’s potential utility after the big transition should be quelled by this decree. What an invitation to be useful!! The AAT training program is currently accepted in the following states: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah and West Virginia, as well as several Canadian provinces. There is current legislative action to get our training approved in Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Texas. Additionally, there are smaller advocacy groups working in at least six other states to gain approval for properly trained folks to safely and effectively deliver 5NP in their communities.
Legislative Action Update
In addition to all of the legislative activity around 5NP we also have this update from Elizabeth Ropp (POCA’s own legislative watch-dawg), who continues her great work on getting POCA’s AAT program approved in New Hampshire.
In 2022, liberation acupuncturists in New Hampshire, played a key role in changing the NH Practice Act. The acupuncture licensing board pushed a bill allowing acupuncturists to be called doctors. We also got amendments added that:
- Removed the requirement to maintain active status with the NCCAOM.
- Allows an equivalent exam to the NCCAOM certification exams, like the CALE (California Acupuncture Licensing Exam).
- Allows a pathway to certification through apprenticeship.
POCA Fest returns to Providence, RI (July 28th – 30th 2023)!
We are also super excited to reconvene for the first in-person POCA-hosted event since before COVID. The Future Is Ear! will bring together 5NP and community acupuncture. The historical use of the 5 Needle Protocol predates and informed what eventually became the community acupuncture movement. We are exhilarated by our growing group of AAT trainers and trainees and this will be the first chance for many of us to actually meet in person. Please check out our Eventbrite page for more programming and registration info!
POCA’s 2023 Board of Directors
Last year while we were busy shaping and steering our newly restructured organization our BOD remained pretty dormant. That worked well in the short term but it was always the plan, always our goal, to assemble a solid group of folks willing to jump in and help support POCA’s mission. I’m happy to announce that we finally have that crew! Please welcome our current BOD:
Susie Leahy, POCA Tech student (Cohort 8) I’m grateful that community acupuncture exists and excited to be a part of its future. I’m a proud native New Yorker and a Rhode Islander by choice. Currently a second year Poca Tech student, a chance meeting in 2014 introduced me to the school. My professional background is in social work with my most significant focus being on the elderly and those struggling with addiction. Acupuncture for fertility was so important in building my family, and for the past 28 years, I’ve raised and educated three great kids while renovating old houses, which has been immensely satisfying.
Marie Arnberg, DownEast Community Acupuncture I have been running DownEast Community Acupuncture, a POCA clinic in rural Maine, since 2011. In 2012, a colleague and I started the Bangor Veterans Acupuncture Project, a weekly clinic that operated for 8 ½ years. By way of 5NP advocacy, I served on the board of Maine’s state acupuncture association, during which time we were able to push through important ear acupuncture legislation. Many moons ago, I studied foreign languages and social psychology and ran graduate programs in higher ed. Finding CAN/POCA in 2010-11 was a game changer for me, a ’98 NESA grad! I look forward to serving, alongside a new generation of members.
Winona (Noni) Vaitekunas, POCA Tech student (Cohort 8) Noni (they/she) began her acupuncture career unknowingly when she stepped into a small clinic adjacent to the neighborhood masjid in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Drawing from both her academic interests in art, foreign languages, and her family’s Western biomedical background, she felt comfortable navigating acupuncture’s duality of art and technical theory. A member of POCA Tech’s 8th cohort, she hopes to help bring 5NP laws to Oregon and her home state of Pennsylvania as well as one day opening a POCA clinic in western Pennsylvania. Noni is proud to bring her previous nonprofit board experience to an organization she believes in and to take a proactive part in the future of acupuncture.
Take a look at who is helping make POCA stuff happen and read about why they love being involved!
The Holy Cow, Not Bad, Very Decent Numbers!
- In prior years IT Contracting comprised more than 30% of our total budget.
- Our 501c6 structure allows for much simpler tax filings. The cost for filing POCA’s 2022 taxes is already included in the “administrative contractors” portion of our 2023 budget. AKA, we can do it ourselves!