Summit County naturopaths fight for recognition |

Summit County naturopaths fight for recognition

Summit Daily file photo

When Dr. Kimberly Nearpass left Colorado – where she was born, raised and educated – to attend naturopathic medical school in Oregon, she figured that by the time she returned the state would recognize her accreditation. 13 years later, she’s still waiting for that acknowledgment.

This past Tuesday, a bill that would regulate naturopathic doctors in Colorado failed in a House Health and Environment Committee vote. The measure was largely voted down by Republicans.

“This should not be a partisan bill,” Nearpass said. “This shouldn’t be about Republican or Democrat. This is about public awareness and safety.”

Nearpass and her husband Dr. Justin Pollack own the Mountain River Naturopathic Clinic in Frisco, which they have run for eight years. Both graduated from Department of Education accredited graduate programs in naturopathic medicine, passed two board exams, and have four years of in-house clinical and classroom training. They are both licensed to practice in Oregon. Nearpass said they want a protection for their titles of doctors of naturopathic medicine in Colorado because there is currently no state recognition.

“What that means is that there’s no regulation in terms of public safety; there’s no way for the public to know that their naturopathic doctor has any formal training,” she said. “There’s also no way to file a complaint with the state in terms of public protection.”

“Without a license in the state we don’t qualify for malpractice insurance,” Pollack said. “So there’s little recourse for us or our patients if something goes wrong. And there’s no board overseeing the licensable ND’s in this state.”

Naturopathic doctors are practitioners who use general diagnostic techniques – like laboratory diagnostics and physical exams – and treat patients with an emphasis on using natural therapies like vitamins, botanical and herbal extracts, homeopathy, diet, nutrition and exercise.

Nearpass said some of the biggest opposition for the bill comes from other natural practitioners – like nutritional consultants, herbalists and lay naturopaths – who argue that the measure is a bad economic choice.

“All we’re trying to do is get recognition for this doctoral degree program,” Nearpass said. “The bill specifically states that it would not put these people out of business. They can continue to practice, as they’re doing, they just could not call themselves doctors.”

Pollack said in states like Oregon where the profession is regulated, alternative and complementary healing practices thrive together.

There are about 120 naturopathic doctors in Colorado who would qualify for licensing. In Oregon, Nearpass said there are about 1,500 licensed naturopaths. She said regulation would draw more doctors to the state, thus driving the economy.

“There is no doubt that when we finally get regulation in the state there’s going to be an influx of practitioners coming here,” she said. “Colorado is a desirable place to live.”

This is the seventh bill introduced in Colorado since 1994. The measure was introduced and sponsored by Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greely, and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheatridge. Washington, Oregon, California, Utah and Kansas – along with 13 other states – have laws regulating the practice of naturopathic medicine.

Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Durango, told the Colorado News Agency that people should be able to choose naturopathy as an approach to their well-being, but he opposed the bill in part because its restrictions on the practice actually also served to legitimize it.

“It may be too soon to go down this path, formally authorizing a non-scientific practice,” Brown said.

Pollack said one of the measure’s staunchest supporters is a family whose terminally-ill son was treated by a fake naturopathic doctor. The boy – who had six months to a year to live – was dead after 10 days.

“One of the arguments against the bill is that it’s the public’s responsibility to find out what the training of their practitioner is,” Nearpass said. “To my knowledge, this is not true for any other type of doctor.”

Nearpass said a bill passed last year allows a committee to seek out doctors who are practicing without a license.

“A lot of NDs don’t come here, and a lot of NDs have actually left because they don’t like not having the defined scope,” she said. “We’re looking for protection.”

Both Nearpass and Pollack said not being recognized by the state sometimes worries them, but they stay because they love their patients and Colorado.

“We love to be here. We have an incredibly supportive patient base here in Summit County,” Nearpass said. “People say, ‘Don’t leave, what would we do if you weren’t here?’ Our services are needed.”

The Colorado News Agency contributed to this report.

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