U alternative medicine clinic to close

Dan Haugen

John Swenson still remembers the day his headaches started.

“March 14, 1999.”

Since then, Swenson, 41, has seen countless medical doctors, all of whom, he said, have been unable to diagnose his condition. They’ve prescribed morphine and other drugs to dull the pain, but drowsiness from those drugs limits the amount of time the professional arbor can spend climbing trees.

Swenson was open to just about anything two months ago when he turned to the Mind Body Spirit Clinic, a partnership between Fairview-University Medical Center and the University’s Center for Spirituality and Healing.

“They could rub a dead chicken on my chest,” Swenson said. “I don’t care. As long as it works.”

After attending regular acupuncture sessions at Mind Body Spirit, Swenson said, he hasn’t taken morphine in over a month and his headaches are now at a “manageable level.”

“I got my life back,” he said, calling the treatment “a miracle.”

Swenson and the approximately 400 other patients the clinic serves each month will need to find new alternatives next month when the three-year-old clinic closes its doors for good.

University and Fairview officials cited financial reasons for pulling the plug on Mind Body Spirit. The clinic was projected to lose several hundred thousand dollars in the next year.

“We just felt that was a loss that was greater than either the University or Fairview wanted to absorb,” said Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the University’s Center for Spirituality and Healing.

Several factors contributed to the financial troubles, Kreitzer said. The clinic’s location, the twelfth floor of the east building of Fairview-University Medical Center’s Riverside campus, is a costly home. There are many overhead expenses associated with being in a hospital building, Kreitzer said.

Secondly, most insurance companies do not cover all the services provided at Mind Body Spirit. Confusion over what is covered has forced some patients to pay out of their own pockets for services.

Often, when third-party payment does exist, it doesn’t cover the cost of the services, Kreitzer said. This means that for many services, the more patients the clinic treats, the more money it loses.

Kreitzer said Mind Body Spirit’s closing will not have a major impact on the school’s curriculum and that it’s not a reflection of the University’s commitment to alternative medicine.

The Center for Spirituality and Healing will be looking into new partnerships, Kreitzer said, but in the meantime, students will still be able to spend time learning in alternative medicine clinics. Mind Body Spirit was a large endeavor, but Kreitzer said the University has working relationships with several other clinics around the state that practice alternative medicine, including Woodwinds Natural Care Center and the Hennepin County Medical Center.

Hilmar Wagner, Mind Body Spirit’s program manager, said the clinic and alternative medicine in general have benefited greatly from their association with the University.

“It allowed individuals an opportunity to try out services in a setting that they perceived, because of the associations, to be safe, professional and high-quality,” he said.

Since the clinic opened, Wagner said, referrals from conventional doctors have increased, as has the clinic’s acceptance among other medical professionals and health care organizations. The largest area of growth, however, has been word-of-mouth recommendations by its patients, he said.

“(Complementary alternative medicine) is a trend that’s only growing, in interest and sophistication,” Wagner said.

Mind Body Spirit is fairly unique, Wagner said, in that it offers numerous services all under one roof. Many alternative medicine clinics specialize in one area of treatment, but Mind Body Spirit’s 12 practitioners include acupuncturists, massage therapists, psychologists, a psychiatrist, a physician and a nutritionist. Most also have a strong base in conventional Western medicine, Wagner said.

“We’re able to bring the patients the best of both worlds, instead of the client having to choose between one or the other,” he said.

And if patients’ problems call for something other than what Mind Body Spirit can offer, more Fairview facilities are located downstairs. This closeness contributes convenience and credibility to the clinic’s services but also was a part of its undoing, Wagner said.

“As a clinic in a large medical setting, the patients had an expectation that somehow we would have special ability to take insurance payments for these services,” Wagner said. “The insurance companies have given us no special treatment. It is either in their policy or it’s not in their policy. And the sad reality is that the majority of complementary alternative medicine therapies are not covered by insurance, no matter who delivers them or in what practice setting.”

University health insurance plans cover some, but not most, of the services offered at Mind Body Spirit.

Interim director of Health Programs Dann Chapman said certain services, such as acupuncture, are occasionally covered on a case-by-case basis with a doctor’s recommendation. The overall bottom line, though, is that the cost of adding alternative medicine treatments to its health plans would be out of line with the interest level.

This is the first year University employees are covered under U Plan instead of the state’s health insurance. Coverage of complimentary alternative medicine was explored, Chapman said, but surveys showed that most people did not want to pay the extra costs.

Including more of the services offered at Mind Body Spirit would have increased the cost of insurance plans $5 to $10 dollars per month per person, totaling between $1 million and $2 million annually, he said.

“There wasn’t the support to add additional cost to something that is already becoming an expensive and necessary thing for people,” Chapman said.

Despite insurance difficulties, Wagner said he believes the Mind Body Spirit clinic was on the road to financial viability.

“There were a growing number of clients that saw the benefits of our services and were willing to pay out of pocket, but it still limited our growth because for many people affording these services – even if they knew they were helpful – was just not within their means.”

Most of Mind Body Spirit’s employees are part-time and practice privately as well.

It is yet to be determined how or if its employees will be integrated elsewhere into the Fairview system when the clinic closes August 16.


Dan Haugen welcomes comments at
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