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Acupuncture Today – November, 2007, Vol. 08, Issue 11

Reports From the Field: Kang Wen Acupuncture Clinic in Seattle

By Elizabeth Sommers, PhD, MPH, LAc and Kristen E. Porter, PhD, MS, MAc, LAc

The year 2007 marks the 20th anniversary of the Kang Wen Acupuncture Clinic in Seattle. This "golden" time is reflected in the clinic's ability to be malleable and ductile in the face of funding challenges, while continuing to tonify and nourish the public's health in the Puget Sound region.

Founded in 1987 by acupuncturists Tai Lahans and Tori St. Clair, the clinic was one of the first public health CAM organizations to provide affordable care. After 20 years, providers at Kang Wen remain committed to the principle of access to excellent care.

Originally focusing on offering treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS, the clinic expanded services in 2000 to individuals living with other serious chronic illnesses. The concept of Kang Wen, "defeat the epidemic," can be traced back to China in the 12th and 13th centuries, when a variety of famines and pestilences radically affected the nature of illness.1 Although the prevalent illnesses of that time included the bubonic plague and smallpox, the lessons learned about diagnostic and treatment strategies remain relevant today.2

Federal funding sources such as the Ryan White Care Act (RWCA) provided the initial support for the clinic's services. These funds allowed Kang Wen's prices to be set at approximately 20 percent of other usual and customary care in the area. Working with clients' other medical providers, Kang Wen developed collegial relationships and promoted ongoing dialogue in their community.

Jung Kim, member of Kang Wen's board of directors and acupuncture researcher, reports, "36 percent of Kang Wen's clients are living with HIV/AIDS. Because of our model of affordable care, this program is able to continue, despite devastating funding cuts resulting from the loss of the RWCA." The clinic has been able to successfully navigate these challenges because of its strategic planning activities. Developing a diversified funding profile was an essential element of these plans. Kim explains, "Even though the loss of funding from the RWCA in the Seattle-King County region was dramatic and entirely unexpected, the clinic was able to continue to provide services without raising any fees."

Kang Wen currently provides treatment to individuals with a wide variety of conditions. Jung Kim explains, "The largest populations we serve are mainly those who live below the poverty level, with HIV/AIDS, cancer and pain management for musculoskeletal conditions. Because 55 percent of our clients are on public assistance, and 19 percent do not have any insurance at all, our services are quite essential."

Kang Wen continues its core mission by providing Chinese, Japanese and Korean acupuncture styles; cupping and moxibustion; herbal medicine; tui na; acupressure; qigong; tai qi; and therapeutic nutrition. The practitioners are all licensed acupuncturists, trained in both acupuncture and herbal medicine, and committed to providing affordable community health care to Kang Wen clients.

Kim describes the clinic's core objective as "continuing to provide affordable health care to the underserved populations who seek CAM services. We also feel an important objective is to nurture the CAM practitioner. With the massive investment of time and funds that go into practitioner training, Kang Wen feels that providing an opportunity for clinical training, mentoring, and practice management is critical to the CAM field." He also feels that these activities contribute to a stronger sense of community among acupuncturists as well as all CAM stakeholders.

Kim explains, "Practitioners invest in an incredible amount of financial and emotional resources to their training. Since all schools of Oriental medicine are private-based and lack public funding, the expenses and cost of living associated with Oriental medical school are phenomenal. Likewise, the emotional investment with post-graduate training in Oriental medicine is significant. Thus, identifying ways to nurture the recently graduated practitioner remains a priority."

Chris Flanagan, an acupuncturist and former Kang Wen leader, recently returned to the clinic and represents a new wave of personnel changes. Flanagan co-founded the Alternative Healthcare Access Campaign, a Seattle-based CAM organization that serves individuals who are homeless or in transition. Her expertise in public health and community medicine strengthens the leadership team of the organization.

In 2006, Kang Wen graduated its first residency class in oncology. Some of the key successes of the program included the clinic's ability to retain graduates as practitioners and the founding of Kang Wen's first pharmacy. This new service now allows the clinic to provide affordable granular herbal medicine to clients, thus enhancing the wide spectrum of Oriental medicine services available.

The didactic portions of the oncology training program have been moved to the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine, Kang Wen's collaborator for the residency program. Because of funding issues and limited resources, the clinical training portion of the program is currently on hold until further financial support can be obtained. Kang Wen has recognized, however, that this residency training will be an essential component of the clinic's programming and future endeavors.

Kang Wen's immediate goals are to focus on providing additional hours of services, increase their practitioner roster, and further define its role in public health and community medicine. Long-term goals of the organization include a continued emphasis on providing practitioners with viable options outside of private practice, as well as a fundamental commitment to developing programs specific to the needs of the public health sector.

The traditions of Oriental medicine have addressed the twin epidemics of disease and social ills since antiquity.3 Following in the footsteps of the barefoot doctors, Kang Wen's innovative approaches to providing integrated care have evolved over the past two decades and continue to be at the forefront of public health. We salute them on their 20th anniversary, and wish them continued fortitude and success in their vision of promoting community health.

Kang Wen may be reached at (206) 326-3250, or by mail at 1111 Harvard Ave., Seattle, WA 98122.


  1. Furth C. Flourishing Yin: Gender in China's Medical History, 960-1665. Chicago Press, 1999:134-7.
  2. Bodeker G, Burford G, Dvorak-Little M, Carter G. HIV/AIDS: Traditional systems of health care in the management of a global epidemic. In: Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Policy and Public Health Perspectives. Imperial College Press, 2007:255-294.
  3. Barnes L. Needles, Herbs, Gods, and Ghosts: China, Healing and the West. Harvard University Press, 2006:63-4.

Click here for previous articles by Elizabeth Sommers, PhD, MPH, LAc.

Click here for more information about Kristen E. Porter, PhD, MS, MAc, LAc.

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