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Down the Chute

California Medical Board shuts down Santa Rosa colonic studio

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CRACKDOWN Stephen Barlow and Shea Baird say they were operating exactly the same as 20 other colonic studios in the area. - NICOLAS GRIZZLE
  • Nicolas Grizzle
  • CRACKDOWN Stephen Barlow and Shea Baird say they were operating exactly the same as 20 other colonic studios in the area.

To say Shea Baird and her husband, Stephen Barlow, were shocked at the investigator's announcement would be an understatement.

Rather, the couple was in abject disbelief as the man sent by the Medical Board of California to investigate their Santa Rosa–based colonic hydrotherapy practice said they were in violation of practicing medicine without a license and would have to shut down immediately.

On March 22, Baird was given a choice: either sign an affidavit agreeing to cease and desist the practice of colon hydrotherapy immediately or face a potential $10,000 fine or jail time. This was the first time in her 12 years in practice Baird had been visited by an investigator, and she signed the affidavit. "Every attorney we've talked to says, 'They're trying to set you up as first in a line of dominoes,'" Baird says.

As of now, she and Barlow's Santa Rosa practice, Every Body Cleansing Studio, can take appointments only for massage or infrared sauna treatments. Baird says colonics made up about 95 percent of the business, and now they're struggling to get by.

The episode began in January, when Baird got a certified letter from the Medical Board, which had received a complaint from a client claiming to have suffered a ruptured bowel. Baird says this is impossible with her type of treatment. She also discovered the complaint was from the same man who had filed a lawsuit two years prior—a lawsuit that had been settled out of court after an 18-month trial.

Under the terms of that agreement, Every Body was found "harmless." An insurance company handled the settlement and, says Baird, "we all walked away" after the lawsuit was finished in October last year.

The affidavit Baird signed in March states that she is "not licensed in California as a physician of a naturopathic doctor," and that "only a physician's and surgeon's certificate authorizes the holder to use drugs or devices in or upon human beings and to sever or penetrate the tissues of human beings." That means inserting no speculum or tubes, as Baird puts it, "in the booty."

Key to the dispute is SB 577, which lays out what can and cannot be considered medical treatment under the law. A clause in the bill deals specifically with insertion; it allows a colonics patient to be treated if the patient himself inserts the speculum and tube. If the practitioner inserts those objects, that practitioner needs to be licensed.

But in 2002, that clause was struck down in a ruling by the California attorney general. In addition, a consent form, which is typically required from new colonics clients, does not sufficiently protect against the risks of practicing medicine without a license, the ruling stated.

Baird and Barlow were notified two days prior that an inspector would be coming. He was friendly at first, but his demeanor changed when he produced the affidavit. "It was apparent that this was the plan even before he walked through the door," says Barlow.

The couple was left wondering why their business was targeted. "I could name 20 people from here to San Francisco who are still practicing," says Baird. None of them, Baird says, adhere to the laws Every Body is accused of violating.

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