The walls of Xiao Hong Liu’s offices are lined with plaques and framed certificates from around the world, denoting a career in acupuncture spanning back to 1994.
She has a master’s degree from Memorial University. There’s a diploma from a traditional Chinese medicine school in British Columbia. She has Consumer Choice Awards for every year since 2012.
The one thing she doesn’t have is a licence to practice acupuncture.
“For clarity, ‘former acupuncturist’ is probably the best way to describe her,” said Ryan Belbin, a lawyer for the Newfoundland and Labrador Council of Health Professionals (NLCHP), which regulates the practice in the province.
“This individual has not been licensed to practice acupuncture for more than three years.”
Belbin says that hasn’t stopped Liu from working, and the regulator is concerned her patients don’t know her licence has been suspended.
On her website, Liu bills herself as an “authorized provider” of acupuncture services for Veterans Affairs Canada, Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP, as well as other injured workers through Workplace NL.
CBC News hand-delivered a letter to Liu on Monday, outlining the allegations in this story and asking for her side. She declined comment.
Workplace NL, meanwhile, said it had no idea Liu’s licence had been suspended until CBC News reached out for comment.
“We took action to stop services for injured workers today,” the organization said on Tuesday. “The onus is on the health care provider to maintain good standing. As soon as we confirmed that wasn’t the case we took action.”
Licence suspended for refusal to address complaint
It all began with a complaint about the cleanliness of Liu’s business, the Chinese Therapy Centre on Elizabeth Avenue, in 2019. Complaints are handled by a committee within the NLCHP.
Liu, however, did not take part in the process.
Belbin said her refusal to address the complaint led to her licence being suspended in February 2020. Since then, there have been several complaints about Liu providing acupuncture without a licence, leading to a pair of guilty findings under the province’s Health Professions Act and an injunction ordered by a justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Despite it all, Belbin said Liu has been absent throughout the majority of the proceedings, and has continued working as an acupuncturist.
“If you’re not engaging in the regulatory process then you’re essentially indicating the rules and regulations do not hold any real weight with you,” he said. “The concern for the regulator is what else is being overlooked here in your practice?”
The NLCHP’s frustrations with Liu led to an unusual step earlier this year, as the regulator sought to have her found in contempt of court. Justice Glen Noel granted the contempt order on June 30, which came with stipulations.
One was that officers of the court remove all acupuncture supplies from Liu’s office. Another was that the officers put up posters on the walls of her office stating that she was no longer licensed to practice acupuncture.
A third condition was that a notice run in The Telegram letting the public know her licence has been suspended.
When Belbin opened the paper to the classifieds section on July 15, he got a big surprise. Right above their court-ordered notice was an ad for the Chinese Therapy Centre, advertising acupuncture as one of the services provided by Dr. Xiao Hong Liu.
“That’s alarming for the regulator,” he said. “It certainly speaks to the regard with which she appears to be placing first the regulatory matters and now the court matters.”
Liu tells CBC producer she is licensed
CBC News sent an employee into the Chinese Therapy Centre with a hidden camera to verify the NLCHP’s claims that Liu was still providing acupuncture without a licence, and to see how Liu represented herself to prospective patients in terms of licensing.
The producer first called to book a consult, and was able to book an appointment the following day. The consult lasted 10 minutes, with Liu offering to provide acupuncture.
At the end of the appointment, the CBC producer asked if Liu was licensed to provide acupuncture.
“I am licensed like a physician,” she responded. “Not a physician-physician. But the way I have a license is a physician acupuncturist.”
“So it’ll all be covered by insurance because you’re licensed and everything like that?” the producer asked.
“Yeah,” Liu replied. “Yeah, yeah.”
The court-ordered signs had been removed from the walls of her waiting room, and there were boxes of needles — once seized from her office — and an open sharps box on her desk.
CBC News wanted to ask Liu why she has not stopped practicing acupuncture, and whether or not she understands the severity of the legal situation she is in. When she didn’t respond to phone calls, a reporter delivered a letter to her office, which outlined details of the investigation and included questions about her side of the story. Liu said she was not interested in commenting.
Regulator seeking to shut down business
Ryan Belbin isn’t surprised by the results of the CBC News investigation. It all fits with a pattern of defiance in the face of laws and regulations, he said.
That’s why Belbin and the NLCHP are appealing to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to cite Liu for a second contempt of court order at a hearing scheduled for Thursday in St. John’s.
This time, the regulator wants to see stricter enforcement levied upon Liu and her business — such as an order for the building’s landlord to change the locks and evict the Chinese Therapy Centre from the premises.
“I don’t know if anything short of the closure of this clinic is going to allow the regulator to act for the protection of the public, which is the lens that we’re looking at all this,” Belbin said.
The NLCHP can also refer the matter to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary to investigate. The mechanism would be similar to charges seen in recent months related to a woman allegedly acting as a nurse in various parts of the province, and a man acting as a licensed practical nurse in Bay Roberts.
Belbin said he doesn’t want it to come to that, but said this case highlights the complications when people refuse to abide by court orders.
“I think it’s fair to say that this is a really unique case for a lot of reasons,” he said. “This one definitely stands out in my career.”
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