Report from the Federation of Associations of Regulatory Boards

This past weekend, I attended the annual FARB conference in New Orleans.  FARB, the Federation of Associations of Regulatory Boards was formed in 1974. Members come together for the sharing of information; public boards of all types are welcome to join, as are industry supporters such as testing companies that provide exams to the membership and the law firms that represent the Boards.  The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) is a member, as is the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and it was on our Board’s behalf that I attended.

The conference was quite enlightening. It was my first time attending this particular meeting, and the panel included speakers from various boards, everything from medical boards to social work, optometry, and even mortuary boards. Debra Persinger, Executive Director of the FSMTB, was one of the dozen or so panelists.The primary topic of discussion was the various problems facing public boards today and how those can be addressed. It seems that no matter what kind of board was represented, we all have the same problems: unethical behavior from licensees, problems with public perception about what a board actually does, problems with education and exam breaches, lawsuits, interference from lobbyists, and a lack of transparency, among other things.

The first speaker was Meghan Twohey, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, who for a year or more has been reporting on problems surrounding the medical profession in IL. She has repeatedly been denied access to medical board records surrounding physicians who have been accused of rape and sexual assault–and who have not been disciplined–they’re still out there practicing on the public. It really brought to light how professions with powerful lobbies can close ranks around their members and continue to abuse the public trust.

Persinger spoke about various problems with massage and bodywork exams, including one association who is still giving handwritten exams in public libraries with no security measures at all in place. A representative from Pearson Vue, who administers the exams for both the MBLEx and the National Certification Exams, explained that Pearson Vue is now using something called Palm Vein technology to identify candidates at their test centers. It is reportedly much more reliable than fingerprints and should eliminate the problem of proxy test-takers who use fake ids to take a test on behalf of someone who can’t pass it.

Quite a bit of legal advice was dispensed by attorney Dale Atkinson, who represents FARB, the FSMTB, and numerous boards and agencies all over the country. Among his advice to boards, that got my attention because as a board member myself I have seen it happen: never accept voluntary surrender of a license but to instead insist upon a consent order.  He also advised boards not to be afraid to permanently deny an applicant, something that in five years I have never seen happen. We have refused to license people based on their criminal record, but they are usually told they can reapply in X number of years, usually 1-5 years. The logic, which makes perfect sense, is that some people will never be suitable candidates to place their hands on the vulnerable public. Boards have had a tendency not to permanently deny anyone for fear of litigation, such as being accused of prejudice and subjected to a discrimination lawsuit.

The same issue has affected schools, according to several educators from public institutions who spoke. Admissions departments in public universities who have a limited number of places in an educational program can and do refuse applications based on academic merit and other reasons. According to Dorinda Noble, an educator and member of the Texas Department of Social Work Examiners, one of the major issues facing licensing boards today is the proliferation of for-profit career schools who don’t turn anybody down–if you have the tuition, you’re in whether you are unsuitable to the profession or not, and if you don’t have it, they’ll bend over backwards to get it for you, in the form of crippling student loans. Incidentally, I thought Ms. Noble was the most informative and engaging speaker of the conference.

I have often preached the sermon of the need for massage therapists to stay informed and to be involved in their profession in the interest of 1) knowing the law (how can you abide by it if you don’t know what it is?) and 2) rising up together to prevent legislation that is detrimental to us. It doesn’t do any good to complain after the fact. My attendance just reinforced that. All in all, it was very informative, and from my perspective of being one who has a vested interest in the regulation of massage therapy, I’m glad I went.

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