Free holistic clinic opens in Santa Rosa affordable housing complex

For several years, west Sonoma County chiropractor Laura Polak has had a “tithing policy” where she and other clinicians at her Sebastopol holistic health care practice donated a percentage of their professional time to providing services to those who can least afford it. But she says it hasn’t always worked out that way.

One day, she saw a patient who said she didn’t have the means to pay leave in a brand new Lexus. At times, other “needy” clients would speak of their gardeners or house cleaners.

“It was based on honesty,” Polak said, whose clinic offers acupuncture, Chinese medicine, chiropractic, nutrition and other alternative health care services.

“It appears that people who saw themselves as needing help were making a lot more money than they were saying,” she said.

Rather than wait for low-income clients to come to her, Polak decided to take the services to them. For the past three months, Polak and a handful of other alternative medicine providers have been operating a holistic clinic once a week at Colgan Meadows, an affordable housing complex run by Burbank Housing in southwest Santa Rosa.

Founded by Polak, the Community Holistic Clinic operates from 1 to 4 p.m. every Friday in the community room at Colgan Meadows. The services, which are free, include chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage and naturopathic medicine.

The massage therapist, who is known simply as Mo, said some of her clients have had very little exposure to alternative medicine.

“I’ve worked with people who have never had a massage, who are in their 60s,” Mo said.

Graham Lankford, the clinic’s acupuncturist, said he likes the idea of reaching a “population that often gets overlooked.” Lankford said the clinic staff make it clear to the clients that they offer holistic care and do not practice conventional medicine. In cases where clients seek more conventional forms of health care, staff let people know they may be able to access such services at a local community clinic like the West County Health Centers, Lankford said.

“We’re pretty good at letting people know we’re holistic,” he said.

The practice of providing health services to those who have trouble paying for it is a strong tradition among “natural healers,” said Kenn Burrows, a holistic health faculty member at San Francisco State University. Burrows, a faculty adviser to the Holistic Health Learning Center, a specialty library that is part of San Francisco State’s Institute for Holistic Health Studies, said those who practice natural healing are for the most part less driven by financial gain than conventional health care industry clinicians.

“It’s a natural part of this therapeutic community,” he said.

He said services often are offered on a temporary basis and that daily free holistic clinic services are rare.

Polak said there are a number of local health care providers, including local community health centers, who provide holistic health care as part of an integrative array of services. But she said these services are provided under the direction of a “traditional western doctor.”

“I’m looking to create a movement where alternative health care providers are under their own management,” she said.

Polak said some of the most common ailments being treated at the free clinic include lower back pain, neck pain, certain symptoms from chemotherapy, sensitivity to toxins, headaches, eczema and nutrition consultations for inflammatory disorders.

Luis Ponce, 74, of Santa Rosa is among the free clinic’s first clients. Ponce, a retired construction worker, has been receiving treatment for lower back pain. He said he’s tried other conventional medical treatments and is willing to see if holistic treatments will do the trick.

“I have hope that it will help,” he said during a recent visit to the clinic.

Ponce said he wonders how long the clinic will operate free of charge. “This clinic, will it always be free?” he asked.

Since its launch in September, the clinic has built up a clientele of about 100 people, said Amanpreet Kaur, the clinic’s office manager. Word quickly is spreading about the available services, Kaur said.

“The phone keeps ringing off the hook,” Kaur said.

Polak said the benefit of setting up shop in the housing complex is that those who live there already meet Burbank Housing’s income criteria. No further screening is necessary, she said.

The program is open to others, as well. Pascal Sisich, deputy executive director of Burbank Housing, said his organization is only providing the space for the clinic, which he said is open to the public beyond Colgan Meadows residents. He said Burbank is not providing financial support to the clinic.

“It’s just part of our mission to provide community-benefiting services and programs,” Sisich said.

Polak said she’s giving the test project six months to find out which services are in most demand and to see if the need is big enough to warrant launching a formal clinic at a more permanent site. If the need is there, Polak said she may try to find grant funding for a permanent clinic.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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