Falls Short in Virginia November
In 1996, the state of Virginia
passed a law to certify massage therapists with 500 hours of education
as health professionals to be regulated by the nursing board. But
some therapists say that despite the legislative stamp of approval
and protected title, they are no better off than they were prior
to passage of the law.
“When the certification process
came through, it did absolutely nothing to help massage therapists.
We still have to deal with the local [ordinances], and on top
of that we have to pay extra money and have extra education, which
has no value except to drive the cost of doing business up,”
says Ken Foster, C.M.T., of Virginia Beach.
According to Foster, the state health
department classifies 77 professions as health care. Yet massage
therapy is the only one additionally regulated by local jurisdictions,
which determine where, when and how a therapist can practice.
In some communities, massage therapists
are restricted from practicing out of their homes. In others,
home practices are allowed, but only after costly health inspections,
and with restrictions. For example, a fire inspector in Prince
William County told Jill Nixon that she couldn’t burn candles
in her home massage studio.
In many communities massage therapists
must register with the local police department and pay for a background
check, and submit fingerprints and a mug shot. In others therapists
are required to pass an annual physical examination. Certified
massage therapists who are employees of medical or chiropractic
offices are exempt from such provisions.
Foster, a member of the Virginia
chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA-VA),
which spearheaded the certification act, is working outside of
the chapter to tackle the issue of local regulation of massage.
He says that his wish is to rally all certified therapists in
the state, regardless of their affiliation with a national association.
“I’m just trying to get as many massage therapists
together to be like a family and to trust each other,” he
Foster has created an online chat
room and plans to hold meetings to discuss the issue. He says
he has also spoken with a lawyer about the constitutionality of
the double regulation. “What I’m pushing for is that
local regulation become null and void, as it pertains to certified
massage therapists who are already regulated by the state,”
Most state massage laws are written
to specifically override local ordinances. Massage-law advocates
often cite onerous local regulation as an argument for state oversight.
But according to Brenda Griffith,
immediate past president of the national AMTA, and former president
and current member of the state chapter, Virginia’s status
as a commonwealth presents a problem in regard to jurisdiction
over the regulation of massage. “[In Virginia] state law
does not automatically supercede a locality law,” she says.
“Many localities have chosen to keep their old, biased regulations
and just added them to the state certification regulation.”
The AMTA-VA is not ignorant to the
problems faced by therapists in communities with restrictive regulations,
says chapter President Don Pilch. The group has successfully negotiated
the change of 15 onerous city or county ordinances. He said that
the chapter works with a lobbyist, and is exploring a more “global
way” of dealing with the problem. A chapter meeting scheduled
for after this publication’s deadline planned to address
the situation “mindful of the upcoming state legislative
session during the first few months of the following year,”
“It is our goal to develop
an approach that can be embraced by localities that will enable
massage therapists to be treated on a par with other health professionals,
such as physical therapists and nurses.”
Meanwhile, Foster says he will continue
to try to rally the state’s certified massage therapists.
“The more therapists I can get, the more people I will have
access to to ask for help,” he says.
- Kelle Walsh