Dr. MelissaBerry intends to build a hospital from chocolate.
It’ll be the first naturopathic-oriented, integrated teaching hospital of its kind. And funded not just by any chocolate, but decadent, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free Missionary Chocolates, Dr. Berry’s brainchild birthed just before she graduated Portland’s National Center for Natural Medicine—NCNM—in 2008.
Berry didn’t give up her dream of being a naturopathic doctor—ND—to be a chocolatier (actually, Missionary was an accident of sorts: she wanted to gift treats to her lactose-intolerant, vegan mom, and it happened that everyone fell in love with them); rather, the inverse: by making chocolate, she hopes to be a doctor in her own hospital—ideally, she says, one situated on the NCNM campus.
Naturopathic medicine has long been at odds with what it calls allopathic medicine—(most know allopathy as Western medicine). The reputation of naturopathy has suffered amongst traditional medical professionals for its lack of clinical research. However, the lack of clinical research results from a lack of hospitals.
It’s a chicken-and-egg situation: Naturopaths don’t have hospitals to do clinical, in-patient research, which is necessary to qualify for the all-important Certificate of Need—a mandatory step in establishing a hospital granted by those who already run hospitals.
It’s a complication Dr. Berry is making chocolate to remedy.
“We can’t prove techniques because naturopaths currently work on an outpatient basis,” Dr. Berry says. “I need to keep you to heal you.”
In order to keep you, Dr. Berry says she needs an in-patient hospital. In order to heal you, Dr. Berry needs truly integrated medicine.
“The phrase ‘integrated medicine’ drives me nuts,” she says, “because it’s not integrated!”
Berry admits that medicine, naturopathic or Western, doesn’t have all the answers. She asserts that many MDs are just as interested in a holistic preventative approach. She says it’s the “only way” medicine is ever going to change.
“Only by working together and putting all the best brains in medicine together that we’re really going to help people.”
However, “some MDs dismiss us,” says Dr. David Schleich, president of NCNM. “We dismiss some of them too. But being adversarial doesn’t help. What helps is Dr. Berry saying, I’d like to have the medical doctor and the chiropractor and the nurse and the cranial-sacral therapist and the nutritionist work together for the benefit of the patient.”
That’s what she means by ‘integrated.’
Integra, in latin, meaning ‘whole.’
In other words, Berry’s hospital would roof healers of many disciplines in order to combine their skills for individual patients’ needs. Students from Portland’s four major medical schools would have the opportunity to do combined residencies for a fuller range of medical practice.
In the past few years, there have been significant shifts in how naturopathic medicine is viewed and accepted by Western medicine—and the public, not least due to millions of dollars of studies conducted at NCNM’s own Helfgott Research Institute, which contributes significantly to the field’s empirical data footprint.
According to Dr. Schleich, a little known fact in the medical field is that the accrediting body of naturopathy gets its authority from the same place the Western doctors get theirs. Which means, technically, naturopaths and allopaths have the same authority.
The arduous process of licensing NDs to practice in each state delayed the profession from gaining popularity in the mainstream, until recently.
When a state adds a license, the result is “dramatic,” says Schleich. “There’s up to a tenfold increase in the number of NDs.” (Oregon has the largest number of naturopathic doctors than any other state, by a notable margin.)
Now, prestigious medical centers all over the country—such as Cancer Treatment Centers of America—hire naturopathic doctors alongside Western doctors, Portland’s own Providence and OHSU among them.
Before she graduated NCNM, Berry says she went to Schleich with a list of grievances toward the medical field.
Complaining isn’t going to change anything, he told her. “The gold makes the rule,” he said.
“That’s why I feel ethical about what I do, Berry says. “The chocolate is how I make money.”
And after seven years in business, Missionary Chocolates is actually starting to make money. Berry’s next step is to start up her 501(c)3, Bridge City Health Care Connections, through which the new hospital’s revenue will stream.
Dr. Schleich believes so strongly in Berry’s vision that he will serve on the non-profit’s board of directors after he’s finished with his presidential post at NCNM.
And Dr. Berry’s dream of a partnership with the school, Schleich says, “is very welcome—at the right time.”“If you take on something as magnificent as a hospital project when your own infrastructure is not ready for it,” Schleich says, “it can actually do harm to both.
“As we grow our capacities,” he says of NCNM, “our ability to embrace another institutional piece is stronger.”
Is it really possible? one might wonder. Can she build a hospital from chocolate revenue?
NCNM graduate Mandy Schirmer wants to think so. “It’s a big mountain to climb,” she says. “I wholeheartedly support it, but I can only imagine the red tape she’d have to get through, even with funding.”
The funding will require an up-scaling of Missionary Chocolates, Schleich says. Dr. Berry’s current factory is a small outfit at 2712 NE Glisan, in the same building as a Plaid Pantry.
“Imagine when she’s distributing at Costco,” Schleich says. “Once there’s momentum, she can just go for it.” He posits that Dr. Berry’s hospital could open its doors as soon as 2025, a short, sweet decade of progress in integrating medicine.