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Holistic health centers offer alternative therapies to help you live and feel better

Craig Horner was working in two other practices in late 2013 when the chiropractor-acupuncturist decided to chase his professional dream: He bought the former office of a retired OB/GYN and set about creating a holistic health center in his hometown of West Seneca.

The old office looks about the same from the outside as it has for decades, but inside has been remade into a more tranquil space where four chiropractors, four massage therapists and several other wellness practitioners ply their trades.

All besides Horner rent space from him. Nobody dispenses prescriptions. Insurance covers Horner’s specialties but it’s pay-as-you-go for other services that include hypnotherapy, nutritional counseling and a variety of massage techniques.

“People are frustrated with just taking pills,” Horner said. “They want to look for other alternatives to deal with their pain or conditions.”

The Seneca Springs wellness center model has become more common during the past five years across Erie County at a time when physicians, too, have begun to collect themselves in larger spaces to provide a variety of services under one roof. These changes arrive as the national health insurance system evolves from one based on fee-for-service reimbursements to one based on performance. When providers keep patients healthier and out of hospitals, they will earn more money.

Holistic health centers have a similar aim.

In both cases, patients will need to seize a greater stake in their care, said Jill Chiacchia, owner of beHealthy Institute in Hamburg.

“It’s about empowering people to become confident that they know what to do when it comes to what’s best for them,” Chiacchia said.

Julie Gross – coordinator of musculoskeletal health management with BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York – is among those who recommend that people bent on better health straddle the traditional and holistic health spheres of healing, educate themselves on all treatments they consider, and check with an up-to-date and open-minded primary care doctor, and others, before embarking on something unfamiliar to them healthwise.

“The more people on your health care team, the better,” said Gross, a chiropractor.

“We recognize we need health care, not sick care,” added her colleague, Jennifer Johengen-Vogel, a registered nurse and senior director of health management with the region’s largest insurer. “Everybody wants to be treated well on the medical side but we are also trying to help people live and feel better.”

The challenge with some holistic treatments is that there aren’t millions of dollars to provide enough research to show their effectiveness. As is the case with all health care, results can vary for individuals, Gross said. Still, insurers have seen enough to suggest many alternative treatments may be effective in at least some cases.

“Hybrid” services and treatments that combine traditional and holistic approaches tend to be viewed most favorably, Johengen-Vogel said. They include chiropractic, physical therapy and mental health counseling, all of which require an extensive college education “and have serious, literature-based research behind them,” she said. Insurers tend to cover these treatments, while most other holistic services can by partially covered in many cases through employer wellness cards and medical reimbursement accounts.

There are at least nine holistic health centers in Erie County for those sick and tired of being sick and tired, or who have watched loved ones struggle with chronic disease and look to stave off something similar.

Here are three of their stories.

1. Seneca Springs Chiropractic & Acupuncture

3648 Seneca St., West Seneca (

The story: Stefanie Pawelek joined the ranks of Horner’s growing business in January. She holds a doctorate of chiropractic from D’Youville College and is pursing an acupuncture degree from New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls. As with all four chiropractors in the office, she can handle general cases, but specializes in women’s health and pregnancy as well as cold laser therapy which penetrates the skin and can help with cellular repair and regeneration. “It’s great for chronic neck pain, back pain, arthritis,” she said. “We’ve had some really great results with it.”

Horner, and Robert Grobelny are among the few chiropractors in the region who also are licensed acupuncturists, and Dr. Nicole Enzinna specializes in cranial-sacral therapy and dental issues.

The four massage therapists also tackle cases with their own aplomb. One specializes in prenatal massage, another in Thai table massage. A third works with essential oils and a fourth will take worker compensation claims.

“The treatments do work synergistically,” Pawelek said, to which Horner added, “with no side effects. If one thing isn’t working, hopefully we can find something that’s going to find you benefit and relief.”

Horner and Pawelek talk about a day when physical therapy, yoga and cooking classes can be offered at the practice. There’s even talk of building a gazebo for a more stress-free massage studio off the back of the parking lot, near a field familiar to deer and other wildlife.

“What we do here is becoming more mainstream,” Horner said. “There’s definitely room to grow.”

Services: Acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, mental health counseling, cold laser therapy, aesthetic services, hypnotherapy, nutritional counseling.

2. beHealthy Institute

40 Main St., Hamburg (

The story: Karen and Mark Laible have taken a few cooking classes over the last couple of years at beHealthy Institute, a short distance from their Village of Hamburg home. She and her husband, who works in computer systems at BlueCross BlueShield of WNY, always have tackled regular doctor checkups and testing but at this point in their lives – both are 57 – wanted to take greater ownership of their health. The decision came this summer, a few months after Karen’s parents both died following lengthy illnesses. They started with a gentle yoga class. Then came meditation. The stress they looked to ease has slowed.

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to take better care of ourselves,” Karen Laible said.

Chiacchia opened her institute five years ago after graduating from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, an intensive, New York City-based, mostly online school that focuses on the importance of wellness and healthy eating.

“A lot of people come in overwhelmed,” said Chiacchia, a married mother of four. Many have gastrointestinal issues. Others are in remission from cancer or are dealing with pain and seek relief without prescription meds. She and others look to supplement medical care with a variety of holistic offerings.

“Maybe they heard about something or read something online and when they started to do their own research. There’s conflicting information out there,” she said. “When we are able to have that face-to-face conversation with them, we can say, ‘It’s all good, no matter where you’re starting and what you’re doing.’ It’s really empowering people to trust their gut and asking ‘What is it you want to do? Let’s start from there. Let’s make some good choices and see how it goes.’ ”

The center has become a mainstay in a walker-friendly village business district sprinkled with restaurants and commercial office space. It has an all-purpose room, where the Laibles and others take yoga and cooking classes, as well a consultation room where Chiacchia does health coaching and which others rent to provide a variety of services.

She encourages those she calls “members of our tribe” to talk with doctors and specialists about what they’re doing at the institute. “At first, some fear if they say ‘I’ve been taking homeopathic remedies and juicing every day,’ the doctor is going to yell at them,” she said. “It’s about being confident and saying, ‘I’ve been doing this in addition to what you’ve been telling me to do and I feel great.’ Often, I’ll hear back that the doctor said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing over there but keep it up.’ ”

Services: Acupuncture, healthy cooking classes, health coaching, mental health counseling, reflexology, thermal imaging, wellness classes, yoga.

3. Complete Wellness

1515 Kensington Ave., Buffalo (

The story: Joe and Pam Priest and medical doctors Ravi and Pratibha Bansal bought a former orthopedic office building in 2005 and reopened as Complete Wellness in 2012. Pain Rehab of WNY, operated by Dr. Pratibha Bansal, has anchored the building for longer than that. She insists that all patients who see her undertake a two-month exercise program before she will consider a long-term course of pain medication.

“What we ultimately want is to improve the quality of life,” said Laura Villalobos, the Complete Wellness office manager and operator of one of its dozen businesses, Health Essentials Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

“People have different needs, and we do have a number of different approaches,” Villalobos said.

It can be daunting to open a holistic health business on your own, she said, and strength in numbers helps. The challenge for managers of such spaces, however, is that growth in the industry and the challenge of promoting such centers on a more limited budget than established medical practices can lead to quite a bit of turnover.

Complete Wellness recently lost a massage therapist and would like to add another, along with acupuncture, yoga and mental health counseling, Villalobos said. Meanwhile, among those offering services is Terri Songbird Phillips, a registered nurse who left traditional medicine to focus on holistic healing. She uses a variety of therapies, including “soul coaching” and other practices that look to bolster emotional healing. She will lead a “Law of Attraction in Action” workshop from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the center. A $20 “love offering” is requested.

Chiropractor Raymond Cooley also is among practitioners. “I wanted to be in a place with other practitioners,” he said. “A lot of my practice is patient education and I like having a classroom.” He has given lectures on brain health, sleep, thyroid challenges and fat metabolism in the classroom. He treats patients who struggle with chronic pain, tingling in the arms and legs, fatigue, brain fog, thyroid issues, digestive complaints, and food and chemical insensitivities. His goal: try to find the problem in the nervous system that’s short-circuiting the way particular muscles and joints behave, and try to fix it.

“In the end, patient education is huge,” he said, “making sure they’re eating right and moving.”

Services: Chiropractic (functional medicine and neurology), healthy cooking classes, family physical therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, kinesiology, light therapy, medical nail services, pain management, reiki, smoking cessation, soul coaching and a complete wellness practitioner who offers light therapy, iridology, hypnosis, Canadian forest tree essence and emotional wellbeing consults.


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