Seamus Kennedy is the owner of Live Well Upstate in Elmira, NY. They are a drug-free, medical clinic offering the full gamut of Chinese medicine which includes Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and supplementation, medical massage therapy, nutritional consultation and guidance, and personal cultivation particularly in meditation and qigong practice. This also includes a Float Tank. They have been in business for 5 ½ years and may be found at 408 W. Church St, Elmira, NY 14901. They may be reached at (607) 733-3373, by email at Seamus@LiveWellUpstate.com or info@LiveWellUpstate. Their website is www.LiveWellUpstate.com and they also have an active Facebook page. They are also on Twitter.
What has been the evolution of your business?
When I graduated from SUNY Albany I had a BA in Linguistics and had secured a job in Japan teaching English as a second language. I was leaving in a few months when I realized it was not going to be enough to satisfy me long-term. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and started going to my friends’ medical school classes. I shadowed her doing rounds at the hospital – getting my feet wet without having to commit. I had always been excited about the option of being a doctor. I came to the conclusion that if I went into medicine, I would not be able to do the conventional route.
I decided to go the Naturopathic Medical route. I enrolled at what now is the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM.edu) in Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. When I was there, I found myself skipping histology class to go listen to the Dean of the Chinese Medicine program talk about Chinese Cosmology. I was hooked! I changed my track from Naturopathic Medicine to Classical Chinese medicine and I never looked back.
I moved back to the east coast fully intending to settle in Ithaca. I had a classmate living in Spencer and she said, “Let’s look in Elmira. There is nothing like this going on in Elmira”. I remember when we looked at properties in Ithaca nothing was moving smoothly. I was getting parking tickets. People were rude. I was feeling frustrated with Ithaca. I went to Elmira to look for properties and it was like the heavens opened up. People were incredibly helpful, kind, very interested and going out of their way to help. We found the building that we practice in now through a person who did the landscaping here.
At the end of this one day I was feeling excited. We went to the Elbow Room and sat next to a fellow who did the landscaping for this property. He mentioned there was this building for sale. He thought it was tiny – probably 700 square feet – it had been empty for awhile – probably get it for a ‘song’. We went to look at it and discovered it was 2600 square feet and did need a lot of work. We did get it for a ‘song’.
It took us the better part of a year to get the financing together for the renovations. It took a village. The whole neighborhood, friends, especially family helping out and we created this beautiful little oasis in the middle of Elmira.
Do you have investors here or is this all yours?
All of my debts were consolidated into a mortgage that I am continuing to pay off.
Are there any misconceptions about you or your business?
That is hard to know. I am told that people speak kindly of what we do here with some enthusiasm. Our business is almost completely word of mouth, based on the good work we do here. That is how we have built up business over the last few years.
Do you have employees or contractors?
Everyone here is an employee including myself. We are moving in the direction of self-management, otherwise known as Teal organizational model (based on Reinventing Organizations by Frederic LaLoux). It takes me out of the position of ‘Benevolent Dictator’. One of the reasons we want to do the self-management, it gives people the freedom to develop what they want to develop within the supportive environments of Live Well Upstate. It’s not just “This is what we are doing next. Everyone fall in line”. It’s more like how do you see this place growing; what do you want to contribute; how are you going to do it”? Suddenly all the enthusiasm in the world is there.
Is acupuncture covered by insurance?
Acupuncture is covered by several insurance policies but not by everyone. We here at Live Well Upstate do not bill insurance directly. There are a couple of reasons:
- It keeps our costs down because it’s a pain in the butt to do it. (That may change as we expand and have MDs and Chiropractors on staff here. They may insist on a billing department, which I would support if it made sense).
- Most people who have some benefit for acupuncture can get reimbursed if they do that work for themselves. It does a service to a patient’s healing if they are actually participating in how their care gets paid.
What are your greatest achievements?
Surviving 5 years in Elmira, NY? (hahaha) That’s one.
Also, doing a lot of public education about what Chinese Medicine is and what it is not. I practice rather classical old school Chinese style of acupuncture. Getting people to understand that the provocation is necessary to stir the system to self-healing is kind of a big deal.
Another accomplishment is getting folks to understand that they have more control over their health destiny than they believe. We are working to undo some of the programming that the culture has created of doctor as minor diety who knows all and we are simply to toe the line. We want to give people real tools to promote confidence. Checking into their own body and their own health is really important for them in the long term.
Have you had any stumbling blocks?
The main stumbling blocks are with people who have come into our organization who have tried to take over by force of their personality and what they think their skills are. Then having to basically school them in transparent management that doesn’t have ego behind it, which is a very difficult thing to have to do to someone who is really accomplished.
How has that worked out?
They have left. It is perfectly appropriate. We have all learned from those experiences. I have particularly learned what to look for when bringing new people on.
Also, we have had financial difficulties in the beginning. The whole neighborhood and family system pulls together for you and you are still not quite paying your bills – having to do those reorganizational things that are painful and a little embarrassing. It happened. We all pulled together. We are consolidated and very stable now.
If you had a Do-Over, would you?
From a certain point of view, everything unfolds as it is supposed to. In retrospect, the main thing I would do is be more confident in what it is that I already knew and not cow tow to strong personalities that thought they knew better.
Where do you see yourself in 5 Years?
In 5 years we expect to have a larger facility and that may mean expanding into the other 2 buildings that are here on the property. We want to be able to offer integrated, conventional and drug-free care in one place. We would want it to be very strongly community based and not just boutique medicine. We do heavily rely now on the people who can afford to come here to keep everything going. But the long term is to expand and add services to people who would not otherwise be able to afford drug-free care and instruction in self-care, nutrition, exercise, personal cultivation, and all of these things that keep you healthy to begin with. It is really important in a community like Elmira.