Social Justice

The Big Jewcy: Liz Appel – Community Acupuncture For Chicago

Liz Appel and her colleagues are trying to bring affordable Chinese medicine to the people of the Windy City. Read More

By / June 2, 2011
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This May Day in Chicago, four women opened the doors to a center dedicated to pulling up the city’s workers. And unlike (now former) Boss Daley’s tendency to shoot to kill the Chicago citizen, this project aims to shoot to heal–with affordable needles.

In completing her studies of Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, and Asian Bodywork at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, Liz Appel (pictured above with co-founder Tanuja Jagernauth), became a founding member of and Chinese medicine practitioner at Sage Community Health Collective. Equipped with more than enough ammo, Appel is out to make more accessible the conventionally lavish health services gaining in popularity in these parts by the day.

We at Jewcy are hopeful that this is no anomaly and that Appel and the gang are part of a larger trend in Chicago toward services geared to the actual needs of its people.  So we sat down with Appel for the scoop:

Can you tell me about Sage and the services it is offering to which communities? Also, who is involved? Philosophy behind the practice?

Liz Appel: Sage Community Health Collective opened its doors of our peoples wellness center on May Day 2011.  Sage is an egalitarian non-hierarchical worker-owned collective of four women healers, Tanuja Jagernauth, Stacy Erenberg, Jennifer Wade and myself — utilizing the various modalities of Chinese medicine to provide affordable wellness services. We offer individual and community acupuncture, Chinese herbs, bodywork/massage, and nutritional consultations — all on a sliding scale model.  We also offer donation-only ear acupuncture, using the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol treating addiction, trauma and stress.  We will be offering various skillshares, trainings and workshops in the coming months. 

The four members of Sage come from activist and organizer backgrounds, and we are committed to providing trauma-informed, harm-reductionist, accessible and affordable care.  We are committed to providing wellness services to communities traditionally denied access to medical care – including low/no-income folks, people of color, immigrants, youth, women, queer and trans communities.  Also important to us is working with the social justice community – the four of us having experienced and witnessed huge amounts of burnout and exhaustion. We want to support sustainability and wellness within movements for social change. The work we are doing brings together the worlds of social justice, “alternative”/holistic medicine, public health, and healing justice.

What niche are you filling that is unfilled by current healthcare providers?

I think we do our part to fill an interesting role in health care right now.  Obviously as Chinese medicine practitioners, we offer an “alternative” to traditional allopathic or Western medicine.  Many people are looking for non-pharmaceutical based solutions to acute and chronic health issues.  Chinese medicine offers a mind/body/spirit wellness paradigm that resonates with many people looking for a deeper way to understanding health and dis-ease processes in their lives.  Chinese medicine is a preventive system – so we are not only treating manifesting symptoms, but getting at the root cause of deeper imbalances to prevent long term dis-ease.  We do not claim to have all the answers, but believe in supporting people to live and walk their truth.  It is part of our work to also be a community resource – sharing information and referring people to other practitioners of different healing traditions.  We understand that Chinese medicine may not be for everyone. 

Additionally, by offering sliding scale services, we are part of a growing movement of holistic providers who believe in accessible health care.   Unfortunately, most alternative health care services are cost-prohibitive to the majority of people in this country.  One visit to the acupuncturist, for example, can run anywhere between $65-$150 on average.  Because acupuncturists see patients for 60-90 minutes appointments, and generally don’t have insurance coverage or salaried positions in hospitals/clinics, they have to charge a premium to cover their costs.  Sage is committed to providing wellness services to traditionally underserved communities and utilizes the community acupuncture model – offering semi-private treatments in a large room with comfortable recliners for $15-$50 sliding scale.  This allows us to see a greater and more diverse number of patients for multiple sessions.  Acupuncture is not a one-time only treatment medicine – the effects are cumulative and so for people to be able to come on a regular and consistent basis (weekly or in some cases, more often), they are able to experience deeper and longer-lasting benefits of the medicine.

Would you attribute your work in social service to anything specific or general in your Jewish upbringing/ your training in Eastern Medicine/ something else?

My Jewish upbringing was inextricably tied to my fundamental belief in social justice.  Although I wasn’t raised in an overtly religious environment, I was instilled with the understanding that being Jewish was about bringing humanity, respect and compassion to your family, community and larger society. And that fighting injustice was part of being Jewish.   My grandparents – Harriet and Martin Hausman – were living examples of this message, dedicating their lives to working for the betterment of humanity.  For me, many of the tenets of Chinese medicine resonated with this framework – understanding that individual people can’t be healthy within a larger environment of dis-ease. Much of the diagnostic system of the medicine looks at areas of relative “excess” and “deficiency” and works to restore balance in the mind/body.  To me this translated perfectly to transforming an unjust society to one where resources are distributed more equally.

I know you went to Cuba once–was that also social service work? What other projects have you done in a similar vein?

I went to Cuba in 2001 to continue my Spanish language education, just after graduating from college.  I was actually getting ready to enter Western medical school, but had trepidations about what that life held in store for me.  When I went to Cuba, it was incredible to be in a place where my radical beliefs about access to health care, food and education were actualized.  Cuba, a relatively resource “poor” nation, was able to provide for the basic needs of its people.  In the US, a resource “wealthy” nation, the inequality only grows with entire populations systematically denied access to all sorts of basic rights. 

Instead of entering medical school, I ended up spending the next several years as an organizer and activist, working for prisoner rights within the prison abolitionist movement, working for immigrant day laborer rights to health care and better pay as a health care interpreter and march organizer with organizations like Root Cause and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

While in Chinese Medicine school, I set up and facilitated free ear acupuncture and massage clinics at the American Indian Center with Native elders and at the Centro Autonomo (Autonomous Center) with the Latino/a immigrant community on Chicago’s Northwest side.