On the third Tuesday of every month, something special happens in Stone Ridge. Residents from throughout the area flock to the Marbletown Community Center to receive care from holistic health practitioners skilled in a variety of techniques.
These volunteers offer their services to the public on a pay-what-you-can basis. Those without the means to make a monetary contribution can pledge an hour of their time toward community service, but those who are unable to reciprocate at all are seen just the same. In an era of high-cost, high-profit medical care, the idea of affordable or free health care services being provided by unpaid volunteers is something special indeed.
The Rondout Valley Holistic Health Community was conceived by three women who met through a local meeting for the Transition Town Movement in 2011. The Transition Movement was started in the English town of Totnes by permaculturist Rob Hopkins. Stressing the need for self-sufficiency in areas such as food and energy production, the movement spread to other locations in England, and eventually overseas. Cornelia Wathen, Fay Loomis, and Nancy Eos, MD, met at one such meeting in the Hudson Valley. While discussing their ideas as to how they could locally implement the self-sufficiency and sustainability encouraged by the Transition Movement, the three discovered a shared dream an affordable holistic health initiative.
As part of their research, the trio visited True North in Falmouth, Me, and The Ithaca Health Alliance in New York to observe functioning models of holistic health care centers. As momentum for the project grew, more practitioners began to volunteer, and the Marbletown Community Center offered the group use of its building. In the spring of 2012, the Rondout Valley Holistic Health Community hosted its first Community Holistic Healthcare Day, and began delivering on the shared dream of providing affordable alternative health care for all.
While user reviews of the new Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) are certainly mixed, one thing that can be said of the new legislation without question is that the ACA is not a solution in search of a problem: Medical care is expensive, and many Americans simply cannot afford to pay for services. Likewise, the RVHHC is seeking to answer the increasing demand for affordable, alternative health care.
Western medicine can no doubt achieve miracles (thank you, polio vaccine). However, the same powerful medicine that can be used to fight a tenacious illness can also be extremely traumatic to a person’s overall health and wellbeing. For instance, who hasn’t marveled at the list of side effects and dangers rattled off at the close of any given pharmaceutical commercial, or seen the physical and emotional effects of chemotherapy on a friend or loved one? People have been increasingly turning to holistic health care not just as a more natural alternative to harsh drugs, but also, as respite from what can be seen as a somewhat insensitive healthcare system. In contrast to typical health care, holistic health care treats people “spiritually, physically, emotionally, and psychologically,” says Donna Nisha Cohen, a member of the organizing council for the RVHHC.
Before the Marbletown Community Center opens for the evening, Cohen, a certified yoga instructor and Embodied Life Practitioner, explains that volunteers who will be assisting patients for the evening gather together to energetically clear their workspace and join hearts. “We are creating a vibration of love,” she says.
That may sound a bit unusual in the context of our standard approach to medicine, but consider what our healthcare system might look like if one of its goals were not just to ease pain or cure diseases, but to create, as Cohen put it, “a vibration of love” to assist in the treatment and healing of an individual. While their approach may be different, these practitioners are still held to a standard, and must be interviewed, provide letters of reference, and submit copies of licenses or ordinations they hold in order to work on patients. Medical doctor, homeopath, and founding member of RVHHC, Nancy Eos, is also on staff during the group’s monthly events.
The packed parking lot at the Marbletown Community Center during January’s event, along with praise from new and returning attendees, suggests that this alternative approach to health care is in demand, and patients believe it to be effective.
After a session with a practitioner, participants are encouraged to leave anonymous feedback. “Wonderful – was having severe neck, shoulder and back problems all day and my massage therapist alleviated it,” commented one patient. Another attendee, writing of their first experience with Plant Spirit Medicine, stated that they felt “wonderful, protected and energetically improved.”
Long-term, Cohen says that the RVHHC hopes to eventually offer their Health Days to the public more often than just once per month, but increased services and frequency means that more money must be raised to cover operating costs. Since its creation, the group has become a nonprofit 501(C) 3, allowing the corporation to raise money through tax-deductible donations. Recently, the nonprofit group also began to write grants. “We already have our first grant,” explains Cohen. “It is a small grant in the amount of $1,500, and that will probably be used for a special event.”
Other goals for the future include the acquisition of a building where practitioners can have offices. For now, however, Cohen says the group is focused on keeping things on a level that is appropriate and manageable. “We try to match our dreams and our resources,” she says.
The next Rondout Valley Community Health Care Day will be held on Feb. 17 at the Marbletown Community Center on Route 209 in Stone Ridge between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.rvhhc.org.
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