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Alternative Medicine^Seattle Goes Au Naturel
Merrily Manthey recalls the moment when the idea for a natural medicine-based public clinic in Seattle came to her.
"I had a blinding flash of the obvious," she says, "and I said, excuse me, since the King County government is in charge of Harborview Medical Clinic and the public clinics, why don't we bring their patients the best of natural medicine?"
Manthey is a management consultant and a trustee for the past several years at Harborview, the area's public hospital. And, as a board member of Bastyr University, the area's natural medicine professional school, Manthey was well aware of a growing interest in natural medicine. Now, nearly a year later, the Seattle area is close to establishing the first natural medicine-based public clinic in the United States.
Driven by a group of area professionals from within and outside natural medicine, the idea for the clinic took on steam after it was endorsed by Kent Pullen, a member of the King County Council who served as council chair last year. Pullen introduced a motion calling for endorsement of the concept and asking for county and state funding. What few suspected was that the concept was virtually a shoo-in from the beginning.
Why? "Before putting forward the motion," Pullen says, "I did a survey of all 13 council members, and found that 11 were already partaking of natural medicine in their own personal lives." In addition, Gary Locke, the county's chief executive, told him that his family, which is of Chinese origin, had been using herbal medicine for generations. Not surprisingly, council members approved the motion unanimously; they later appointed Nancy Weaver to be the council's natural medicine coordinator.
Now, several months later, the clinic's proponents are preparing for a final push for state funding; all involved are optimistic that the funding will be there. What's more, as Pullen notes, several area hospitals, including Harborview, have expressed interest in being involved in operating the clinic. The all-natural facility is scheduled to open in August and will cost $750,000 to $1.5 million to run in its first year, while seeing 100 to 130 patients a day.
Could the King County experiment be a bellwether for the nation? Most of those interviewed believe that the concept of a natural medicine-based public clinic would be readily replicable in other locales; indeed, Pullen, Weaver and Manthey all report tremendous interest from hospitals and local governments across the country, from Alaska to California to New York to Illinois. But Bastyr head Joseph Pizzorno cites a unique confluence of factors that helped cradle the experiment in Seattle.
Pizzorno, a naturopath, points to the intense interest among all sectors in natural medicine, as well as the presence of renowned natural medicine practitioners and learning sites in the area, the lack of any organized opposition from the traditional medical establishment, and the political will and wherewithal to make the project a reality.
Still, even Pizzorno is convinced that some version of Seattle's experiment will eventually come to other communities.
"It simply makes a lot of sense to do this in a public health arena," he concludes. "There's already a lot of money spent in this area; and I believe we'll be successful, as we produce good results, save money in the process, and do, in the end, better medicine."-