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Jefferson County health board weighs acupuncture

 

Journal photo by Jenni Vincent Dr. Virginia Hisghman, a licensed acupuncturist, enlists the help of Jefferson County Health Department board member Willis Nowell as she explains the benefits of auricular therapy (also known as ear acupuncture). Nowell said he didn’t experience any pain as she placed the thin needles in various spots on the outside of his ear.
Journal photo by Jenni Vincent
Dr. Virginia Hisghman, a licensed acupuncturist, enlists the help of Jefferson County Health Department board member Willis Nowell as she explains the benefits of auricular therapy (also known as ear acupuncture). Nowell said he didn’t experience any pain as she placed the thin needles in various spots on the outside of his ear.

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. – Since Jefferson County Health Department officials and board members are looking to serve more patients, they have also been discussing new services that could help achieve that goal – including possibly offering acupuncture as part of a pilot program dealing with mental health and abuse problems.

As a result, county health officer Dr. David Didden, along with board chairman Tom Trumble and member Willis Nowell, recently met with Dr. Virginia Hisghman to discuss the various ways acupuncture can be used in a public health agency setting.

A licensed acupuncturist for 18 years, Hisghman works at Shenandoah Health Associates in Winchester. She has a masters in oriental medicine and received her doctorate from the University of Virginia in research methodologies. She also worked as an National Institutes of Health research fellow focusing on using acupuncture for sleep in adults.

Didden, who has a family medicine practice in Shepherdstown -Potomac Integrative Health – also serves on the five-member West Virginia Acupuncture Board. His term ends June 30, 2016.

He has suggested the county health department consider helping deal with various community needs, using an integrated approach to mental and behavioral health, as well as substance abuse.

A pilot project is being considered that would be “non-pharmaceutical centered” and eventually might include modalities such as acupuncture, nutrition counseling and mindful stress reduction, Didden said.

“One idea is to initially become a clearing house of information for community members seeking additional information about substance abuse and mental health services,” he said.

“This would have to be grant funded, but we could look at having a pilot program during which we would contract with some licensed professionals, including a counselor and social worker, to staff an on-call phone line and also have some web-based resources to refer to so that if someone is interested in getting into treatment or various programs, they would be able to call one central line,” Didden said.

He credited Dr. David Baltierra at Harpers Ferry Medicine for this idea, explaining, “When we talked to him about an integrated substance abuse treatment program and how we might link with his operation, he said he really needs a central location to refer people when they are struggling with an issue.”

“Since we’re talking about providing help with the recovery process, I think this is something that public health is perfectly positioned to do. We can offer this service and help people when they don’t know where to turn,” he said.

No direct patient intervention would be involved with this broader, more general approach, Didden said, but it may also eventually be possible to provide some services to individuals interested in a holistic approach to mental health and substance abuse.

That’s why he and Hisghman have been talking about her work and who can benefit from it, Didden said.

Depending on funding, it may be possible “to have licensed acupuncturists come into our program, with the possible long-term goal of having an opportunity to train some other staffers,” he said.

Hisghman said this type of cooperative venture is a possibility, especially since acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of problems, including addiction issues.

Acupuncture can treat a lot of people effectively and safely, she said, adding that needles required for the various procedures are relatively inexpensive.

“The No. 1 priority is to always focus on safety,” Hisghman said.

Working with other medical professionals is not new since she’s also a nationally-certified National Acupuncture Detoxification Association trainer and focuses on auricular therapy (or ear acupuncture).

“We train groups at Yale University when they first introduce this particular protocol to all of their incoming psychiatrists in their rotation. It’s been used for more than 30 years and has had extensive research done on it,” she said.

“The theory is that we can treat the entire body just using the outside of the ear,” Hisghman said, adding that she’d recently attended the first international conference at Johns Hopkins University on auricular medicine.

“It is gaining ground because there is excellent research on it, and it works. Many consider it a beneficial way for helping deal with addiction issues,” she said.

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