Teaching the Teachers

I inadvertently insulted a massage school owner yesterday by making a FB post saying that I wasn’t impressed by a school that had only one teacher to teach the entire curriculum, and that I wouldn’t choose such a school, personally. To begin with, I wasn’t speaking of his school when I made the post, and I had no idea that he was teaching his entire program himself, as his website gives a different impression, listing four faculty members. A couple of his satisfied graduates weighed in with the fact that they were pleased with their education, and many more who didn’t attend that particular school offered comments about the need for diversity and differing perspectives. Some said they’d rather have one good teacher than a bunch of bad ones. I’m going to stick to my guns on that one, and it is just my opinion and mine alone, that it wouldn’t be for me.

There’s no law anywhere that I’m aware of that prohibits one person teaching the whole program. The standards for massage therapy education vary from state to state. The quality of massage therapy education varies from school to school, and even from teacher to teacher. I also stated in my post that I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are brilliant and engaging teachers; there are teachers who know their subject but who are so droll and boring you can’t bear to sit through it; and the sad fact is that there are plenty of people teaching who shouldn’t be teaching at all. A good massage therapist and one who is good at teaching are two different things, many times.

Some states allow anyone who’s breathing to teach a class, and schools often take advantage of that by using last year’s graduates as this year’s teachers. At the other extreme are states with requirements that you must have a college degree in the area you are teaching, at least for science-based classes like A&P, or that you have been licensed as an MT for X number of years before you can teach hands-on classes.  There’s no consistency.

I’m at the end of my five years of service on the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and I have served the School Approval Committee that entire time. Since I’ve been on the inside, I can state that our system isn’t perfect…we state in our rules that teachers should be “trained” but we don’t go far enough with that…there’s no set number of hours of training required, and each school basically does whatever they please on that front. One has a year-long training program. Another has a two-hour orientation and calls it their training program. The others fall somewhere in between. My pet project recently has been encouraging schools to teach research literacy to their students. It seems to be slow to catch on. Some school owners have the attitude that if something isn’t in their board’s requirements, they’re simply not going to do it, and that’s a shame.

So who teaches the teachers? The AFMTE is working on a big project, the National Teacher Education Standards Project. I applaud that wholeheartedly, but I will point out that the AFMTE isn’t a regulatory board and all they can do is put it out there, they can’t force anyone to participate. The Massage Therapy Foundation is offering classes around the country in teaching research literacy, but the same is true of them; since they’re not a regulatory board, they can’t force participation. That’s just too bad on both counts! I’d personally like to see teaching research literacy a requirement in every school. Both of these organizations are saying, “Here we are, here’s what we can do to improve education.” But again, since there’s no law requiring it, some–and by some I mean the vast majority–aren’t getting on the bandwagon. What I fail to understand is why any school owner or program director wouldn’t want to give their school–and their students–their best shot.

While I do concede that there’s a complainer in every crowd, when I see the same complaint from multiple students/graduates, it gets my attention. There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t get emails or phone calls from students all over the country with some tale of woe about their school experience.

On last weeks’ blog, Self-Sabotage–or How I Got Your Clients, I offered up a bunch of the reasons that clients have given me about why they left another therapist and started coming to me. So here are some of the comments that I have received from students:

“Even though it’s in our school catalog that we have a dress code, our teachers don’t follow it themselves. They dress in the same way we’re told not to.”

“There’s no substitute. If a teacher has to be out the class just gets canceled.”

“The teacher is rude if anyone questions anything. Her answer is usually because I say so. I don’t think she knows the real answers.”

“Our teacher didn’t like teaching Ethics, so at every so-called Ethics class, they would just spend the whole hour talking about something else.”

“Our teacher doesn’t know anything about the licensing laws in our state.”

“Our teachers are always contradicting each other and you don’t know who to believe.”

“The A&P teacher couldn’t pronounce the anatomy terms.”

“Our teacher lets us out early all the time because she has somewhere to go. I don’t think I’m getting what I’m paying for.”

“My teacher has had affairs with several students.”

“My teacher’s girlfriend is in the class and he uses her for every massage demo.”

“All of our tests are open-book. I don’t feel like there’s any proof that we’ve learned anything.”

“My teacher tries to impose his religious beliefs on us.”

“My school told me it wasn’t going to be a problem that I had a criminal record but after I graduated I found out I couldn’t get a license.”

“The teacher just graduated last  year and in spite of the fact that she has failed the exam three times and doesn’t have a license, the owner feels sorry for her and is letting her teach.”

“There’s no diversity. One teacher teaches everything.”

“One of the female teachers gives every male student a hard time and picks on them constantly.”

“When I complained to the owner about the unprofessional behavior of one of the teachers, she told me I was free to drop out but I wouldn’t be getting my money back. She didn’t even listen to the complaint.”

“My school experience has been very disappointing but I’ve already paid the money and I’m just trying to stick it out until graduation.”

I honestly could go on for days with the comments. And like I said, when it’s just one whiner, I don’t pay much attention, but when I hear the same thing repeatedly about a school, I encourage those students to report it to the board. If our board gets a half-dozen complaints about the same school or the same teacher, you can bet we’re going to investigate it. I sometimes get emails from students who say they are afraid of retaliation if they complain, and that’s too bad. It just means that whatever problems are there will be perpetuated for the next class of students.

As a school owner or program director, your priority should be to get the best people you can get to teach your students, and to ensure that they are not only familiar with the subject, but that they are trained in teaching adult learners, that they incorporate research references into their class, that they are trained in teaching to diverse learning styles, and that they present themselves and behave themselves in a professional manner. If you allow your teachers to come to class looking like a homeless person, then the blame is on you as much as it is the teacher. If you look the other way while your teachers are having affairs with students, the blame is on you as much as it is the teacher. If you don’t listen with an open mind whenever a student has a complaint about an instructor, shame on you. If you’ve heard the same complaint more than once and haven’t discussed it with the instructor, double shame on you.

If you really want the education that you’re offering to be the best that it can be, you’ve got to teach your teachers. Don’t just hire someone and hand them a syllabus and think they’re going to do a good job. There are resources available and you should be using them.  If you’re not conducting a thorough teacher training program, or requiring your instructors to attend one, or not having teachers trained in research literacy and teaching that to students just because it isn’t a state law, then I urge you to step up to the plate and go beyond what the state law requires. Your school will benefit from it. Your students will benefit from it. The massage-seeking public will benefit from it.

Resources:

ABMP Massage School Instructor Resources

Alliance for Massage Therapy Education

AMTA School Advantage Newsletters

Center for Somatic Teacher Education

Education Training Solutions

Resource ETC

Teaching and Presentation Skills Series

Teaching Research Literacy from the Massage Therapy Foundation


More Myths of Massage

Last week I wrote a post on Facebook about some of the myths of massage. My statement on this issue was and continues to be that I am not accusing anyone of telling a deliberate lie, nor am I attacking the character of any teacher who has helped to perpetuate these myths. I choose to believe that everyone has good intentions.

Before I became interested in the evidence-based practice of massage, I’ve been just as guilty as sharing some of them myself. There seem to be so many of them, and in my opinion  people tend to blindly accept what they learn in massage school. We view teachers as authority figures, but the fact is, teachers have a tendency to repeat what they were taught in massage school…so they pass that on to their students, who in turn share that false information with their clients, with the best of intentions. Some of those same students go on to become the next generation of teachers, and those same myths just keep being perpetuated.

Yesterday I heard from Lee Kalpin of Ontario, who shared a few more of these massage myths with me. I am presenting them here, and if anyone has any valid research references that will back these up as fact, please feel free to post it for our enlightenment.

– Massage removes toxins from the muscles.

– Lactic acid is responsible for DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

– Massage can get rid of cellulite.

– It is contraindicated to massage a person who has cancer (or had cancer).

– If you massage a person who has consumed alcohol, it will increase the effects and make them more intoxicated.

– You can strengthen muscles by performing tapotement.

– You can straighten a scoliosis by doing tapotement on the weak side and stretching on the tight side.

– Manual Lymph Drainage causes the lymphatic channels to collapse for 20 minutes so you cannot do any other manipulations after MLD.

– You should never do more than 3 trigger point releases in a treatment (no reason stated for this one – it was just stated as a fact).

– Ischemic compression for trigger point release should be done as deep as possible.

– Only deep massage is therapeutically effective – as deep as possible. Lighter massage is just for relaxation.

– You should not massage pregnant women during the first trimester.

– You should not massage the feet and ankles of a pregnant woman as it may cause her to miscarry.

– Drinking lots of water flushes toxins out of the system – encourage the client to drink water after a massage.

– You cannot massage a person who has “high blood pressure” – definition needed about how high is high, and cause of hypertension.

– You must massage toward the heart or you could damage the heart valves.

– It is contraindicated to massage pitted edema.

I must say that I have heard all of these at one time or another. Where did they come from? I don’t know. As one FB friend said “I heard it from some reputable teachers.” And they probably heard it from their reputable teachers.  So let’s just let the buck stop with us. If the words “research shows” are going to come out of your mouth, then back that up with the actual research reference, and if you can’t produce any, don’t say it–to your students or to your clients. If all the evidence you need is that massage helps people feel better, then let that stand for itself and don’t make wild claims. And please, as I said above, if you have the research to prove any of these statements, share that with the rest of us.

The Utah Brouhaha

A couple of the officers of the Utah Chapter of AMTA are upset with me for a video I put out yesterday about H.B. 243 that is in the works in their state. You may read the bill here.

This bill removes the term “therapeutic” from the description of massage. It also modifies the language in their Practice Act to include “recreational massage.” Is there anyone among us who would like to be known as a recreational massage therapist? Please weigh in on that. I am personally not acquainted with anyone who would like to be known that way.

I read the bill in its entirety, when it was brought to my attention, and then, AMTA member that I am, went to the Utah Chapter’s website to see what they were doing about this. I was shocked to see no mention of it anywhere, so during the course of the video I encouraged AMTA members to get in touch with their board members and mobilize them to take action on this, and I urged all Utah therapists to contact their legislators to protest what in my opinion is a detrimental change in their language. I posted it on the Utah Chapter’s FB page, as well as my own.

Imagine my disbelief when I received a communication from one of their officers on my youtube channel telling me that I should have contacted them before making my video and telling me to take it down asap. They are of course free to remove it from their own page. They are not free to tell me to remove it from mine. It has had over 700 hits in the last 24 hours and been shared by over 400 therapists. One therapist had made a positive comment about H.B. 243 on FB, the last time I checked. Too many others to count were all as distressed about it as I was.

I also received a lengthy and polite response from one of their officers, that stated  “There is no mention of this on the Utah Chapter website. This matter has purposely not been published on our website at AMTA Utah Chapter precisely for the purposes of NOT bringing attention to the fact that the Massage Therapy Practice Act was being “opened for changes” in this legislative session,” and ended with the request that I remove the video without comment, and to check with them in the future before I make any reference to Utah again.

Sorry, but that will not be happening. Perhaps you have heard of the First Amendment.

Perhaps you have also heard that all legislation is an open book–or it is supposed to be. It is the public’s right to know. If something is affecting massage therapists, it is the massage therapist’s right to know. And it is the mandate of any public board and any non-profit organization to operate in a transparent manner. Anything less than that is unacceptable. Nothing is, nor should it be private, about changes in a Practice Act.

The two AMTA representatives, one of whom emailed me and the other who left a comment on my youtube page,  obviously feel differently than I do about this, and that’s their right. We can agree to disagree. But as much as I am personally mortified by this bill, I am even more mortified that someone would think that massage therapists shouldn’t be informed of what is going on in their own state, given the opportunity to weigh in on it, and to openly hear their professional organization’s stance on it, until after the fact. That doesn’t work for me, and it shouldn’t work for you. I have preached this sermon many times about knowing what is going on in your state, and this is a prime example of that.

Any state’s Practice Act may be up for changes at any time.  And when a precedent is set in one state, it’s that much easier to get it passed in another. Practice acts are always “open” to changes, assuming any interested party can manage to get it on the legislative calendar. Here in NC, we had a detrimental change that our Board had no knowledge of  at all until it was a done deal. That’s not a good thing–and keeping secrets from the massage therapists who are affected by proposed changes in legislation is not a good thing, either. I refuse to apologize for spreading the word, or for expressing my opinion on it.

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.

Transparency

Transparency, when defined in the context of non-profit organizations and public boards, implies that said organizations are accountable to those they represent, that meetings and communications are open, that full financial disclosures are made public, and that all business practices are an open book. It’s an ethical obligation.

I’ve recently posted on my blog my second annual series of reports on the financial health of the non-profit organizations representing the massage profession. As my disclosure states, I am neither an accountant nor a financial expert. All of the information I used to prepare my blogs was taken directly from www.guidestar.org

Guidestar was founded in 1994 as a clearinghouse of information on non-profit organizations. The IRS Form 990 and any other filings required of non-profit organizations, as well as other data collected by them, is published on the website. They have data on every entity registered with the IRS as a non-profit organization.

It is a rule of the IRS that information on non-profits is publicly disclosed, including the compensation of key personnel. The organizations listed with Guidestar have the opportunity to post their filings themselves, and if they choose not to do that, Guidestar gets it straight from the IRS. I want to make it clear that the information I blogged was not some big secret that I received from one of my anonymous sources. It is public information and anyone who goes to the trouble to look it up can find it. I just saved you the trouble by publishing it in my blog, for those who are interested.

I almost went into a state of shock when I received an e-mail from one of our leaders who was upset with me for publishing that compensation. The statement they made to me was that it was their personal and private information–sorry, but that ain’t so, when you work for a non-profit–and that I was doing more harm than good by publishing it, that it would be taken out of context and that while others who administrate non-profits would understand, that the average massage therapist would not understand why their pay is what it is. I actually did not imply in any way that the person was overpaid, because I don’t believe they are. I call it like I see it and if I thought that, I would certainly say so.

I conducted a little informal poll on Facebook, and out of 51 responses, 50 of them agreed that I was promoting transparency by printing the information. The one dissent actually wasn’t a dissent; it was more of a sympathy note of understanding why people don’t want their salary revealed.

If you work for a for-profit company, then it’s certainly your prerogative to keep your income a secret–to a point–because even large corporations have to disclose the salary of their top brass. And if you work for a non-profit, especially one that claims to promote transparency, then disclosure is a given–as well it should be.

IMA Insurance: Up in Smoke, Therapists Burned

The saga of the now-defunct IMA (International Massage Association) continues. Back in July, Will Green, owner/founder of IMA, basically admitted to sabotaging his own company by failing to turn over $600,000 in insurance premiums paid by massage therapists to the insurance company.

Markel, a respectable insurance company who had been underwriting IMA’s policies since Feb 1, 2008, discontinued writing policies for IMA on April 6, 2010 due to Green’s non-payment of premiums. However, contrary to some propaganda put out by AMC (American Massage Council), Markel is continuing to honor the policies they underwrote through the expiration date on the policy if it was purchased between Feb 1, 2008 and April 6, 2010, in spite of not receiving the premium payments from IMA.

Les Sweeney, President of ABMP, in a letter to former and renewing IMA members, personally spoke with a senior executive at Markel and confirmed Markel’s commitment not to leave therapists in the lurch. According to Sweeney’s letter, AMC’s announcement amounts to nothing more than a scare tactic, and one that is certainly not needed by the therapists who are already confused and scared that their insurance went up in smoke. ABMP, incidentally, has had the same insurance underwriter for more than ten years and does not need to resort to such tactics in order to attract new members.

Incredibly, Mr. Green is now trying to sell insurance through NAMT (National Association of Massage Therapists).

Let me put this in perspective. Let’s say that I, Laura Allen, take your hard-earned money and promise you an insurance policy. Then I take that money and blow it instead of paying the premiums to the underwriter like I am supposed to do. Should I then expect you to say, “that’s okay, Laura, and here’s some more of my hard-earned money and you can just sell me a new policy. I’m sure you really didn’t mean to cheat me out of that first money I paid you.” Duh.

According to a letter dated 09/10/2010 from the NAMT staff and Will Green, over 3,000 MTs have signed on with NAMT in the past 18 months. Since Green didn’t admit to his improprieties until July 2010, I truly wonder if any of that $600,000 he admitted to frittering away went in any way to pay bills at NAMT. I am purely speculating, but $600,000 is a lot of money. I personally think the therapists who had insurance with IMA at the time of Green’s announcement deserve a line-by-line accounting of exactly where that money went.

It is also totally scary to me that the website for IMA is still up, no mention of the insurance fiasco is on it, and in fact there is a video starring Will Green stating that he manages over 90 associations. He also talks about having spent $3 million on his organic farm. Maybe you can call him up and demand a bushel of turnips in exchange for the money you paid to IMA.

It has also been charged that Green is being investigated by the FBI, a charge that he categorically denies. There is no telling how much of the swirling rumors are true, but one thing is for certain: I would not give my money a second time to someone who has already done me wrong. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Interesting Changes in COMTA By-laws

I reported in my May 5 blog that COMTA volunteer of more than ten years, John Goss, had been removed from his position, during a meeting he was unable to attend. That led to my reporting a personal experience I had with the organization; I heard through the grapevine that the officers were upset that I had given them negative publicity. I don’t owe them an apology, and there will not be one forthcoming.

I haven’t felt any need to revisit the issue, but an interested party sent me a copy of changes that COMTA had made to their by-laws, effective April 16. I received them while I was on vacation, am just now getting caught up on my correspondence, and I must say, it looks as if they might have been changed in anticipation of getting rid of Mr. Goss.

Here we have an interesting change:

Section 3.12:  A Commissioner who is present at a meeting of the Board at which action on any matter is taken shall be conclusively presumed to have assented to the action taken unless his or her dissent shall be entered in the minutes of the meeting. Such right to dissent shall not apply to a Commissioner who voted in favor of such action.

According to a COMTA insider, who prefers to remain anonymous, the minutes never record votes by commissioner per se unless that commissioner asks that his/her vote be specifically recorded, and since few know this, this section seems intended to silence dissent.  Basically, it says that if you were there, you assented—regardless of how you voted unless it is specifically recorded in the minutes.  The ByLaws do not require votes to be recorded on a roll-call basis.  Seems this is needed before Section 3.12 can be enforced.

Then we have these:

Section 3.14: …In addition, a Commissioner may be removed without cause by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Commissioners then in office.

and to top it all off:

Section 4.2:  … Any officer may be removed by the Board of Commissioners at any time with or without cause, whenever the Board of Commissioners believes the best interest of the Corporation would be served thereby.

I stated in my earlier blog that Goss was known for asking hard questions and holding members accountable.  When I contacted COMTA leadership for a quote, before printing my blog about Goss, I got the answer that he was thanked for his past service and wished well in the future.  Later on, COMTA Chair Melissa Wade e-mailed me that due to confidentiality, they could not tell me why Goss was removed, but assured me that if I was elected to the Commission I would have access to the file. Obviously, that’s not happening.

It looks to me like the amended section 4.2 will allow the Commissioners to remove anybody that disagrees with them, or makes them mad in anyway. When you put yourself in the position of being able to remove someone without just cause, what does that translate to? We can remove you if we don’t like your tie? Your attitude? Your questioning our authority?

Board documents, such as practice acts, rules, by-laws and guidelines of any board are living documents, subject to change as time and experience show a need. Hopefully they are always changed with an eye to improving the public protection, service to stakeholders, or whatever the particular entity is charged with doing. I’m not sure that’s the case here.

I’d like to remind the folks at COMTA that big egos at the top, a lack of transparency, poor service to stakeholders,  and changing by-laws to suit whomever is in charge at the time, are the very things that came within a hair’s breadth of bringing down the NCBTMB. I wouldn’t get too carried away with making changes like the ones above. As the present NCB leadership who inherited just such a mess to clean up can attest, it’s not going to serve your organization well at all.

Laura Allen

Louisiana Board under the Microscope

On May 20, Robert Travis Scott, a reporter for the Times-Picayune, filed the following story about the Louisiana Board of Massage Therapy, reprinted here in its entirety (Scott’s story is in italics):

Current and former board members of the Louisiana State Board of Massage Therapy are raising concerns about possible conflicts of interest in the agency’s hiring decisions.

The board, which licenses and regulates massage therapists, has seven volunteer members appointed by the governor based on nominations from professional associations. The board is backed normally by about three full-time paid staff employees. The board terminated its former executive director effective March 18 and started a hiring process.

One of the first applications was from Leslie Hill, an assistant to the special assistant in the governor’s office of boards and commissions, which collects nominations for the state’s professional and public service boards and suggests appointments to the governor. Hill said she was involved in the appointment process for members of the massage board. While she was in that office, seven members of the board were named in 2008 and three members were replaced in October.

Hill, who has a background in massage therapy, applied for the position of executive director, which led to a discussion among some board members of whether hiring her would create an ethics problem because of her former role assisting with board appointments. After consulting with the attorney general’s office, board chairwoman Mary Donker Syvertsen concluded that Hill’s hiring would not violate the state ethics code. The board hired Rhonda McManus as its new executive director at a salary of $75,000 and hired Hill for the No. 2 job in the office at $65,000, which was $30,000 more than her pay in the governor’s office.

The board’s employment ad called for an executive director and staff and made no mention of the salaries offered. McManus was not given the opportunity to participate in selecting and hiring Hill, who was to become her chief staff member. Syvertsen said she spoke with McManus the day the board was going to vote on the new hires and asked McManus then if hiring Hill would be OK.

Two board members have raised questions about the hiring. One of those is Bruce Evans, who said he has nothing against Hill but objects to the hiring process and did not think it was right for a gubernatorial-appointed board to hire someone from the governor’s appointment office. The other dissenting board member is Jan Debenedetto, who said Hill would be making a higher salary than past staff members and that she was surprise the new executive director had no say in hiring staff. “I think that the way it was handled was wrong on every level,”Debenedetto said.

Vernon Smith, a former leader of the massage board and massage associations, said he thinks Hill’s hiring has inappropriate. Syvertsen and board member Suzanne Schwing said Hill was qualified for the job and that nothing illegal was done in hiring her. Hill said she had no ties to board members and that her application and hiring was a fair and normal process.

Kyle Plotkin, a spokesman for Gov. Bobby Jindal, released a statement saying, “We expect any board, when hiring, to select the most qualified candidate in a fair process.” Another recent disruption at the board is the revelation that two board members have been under investigation for violations of board rules. The issue was brought up during a board meeting earlier this year by an agency attorney, who did not name the members. (End of story)

As a member of a state massage therapy board myself, I can vouch for the fact that board members (of any public board) are constantly warned to not only avoid conflicts of interest, but to also avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest. It appears that the Louisiana Board is walking on thin ice here, and kudos to the Board members who are questioning these actions. Although there is no clear-cut violation, there is certainly the appearance of one. I’d definitely like to be making $30,000 more a year myself, but I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t want my ethics called into question if I was getting it through my ties to the massage board I’m serving on or have been associated with in some other capacity.

A couple of years ago, the Airport Authority in my county had a similar situation, where sitting members who were privy to information jumped headlong into a position to make themselves a lot of money, to the exclusion of other citizens who may have been more qualified, and who at a minimum should have been offered the fair chance to bid on the scheme that was proposed at the time. The Board members who were accused had a rather unique way of handling the charges of unethical behavior that were leveled against them at the time: they voted to suspend all discussion of professional ethics for a period of six months. As you can imagine, I blistered them a new one in the local newspaper.

Anyone who serves on, or is associated with, a public board is sometimes faced with an opportunity to advance a personal agenda, or their personal finances, through their access to insider information. It’s a potential abuse of power when that happens, and it ought to be called into question. If it turns out that no wrong-doing has been done, well and good. Most of the time, if the person in question acts to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, they’ll have to pass on that opportunity, if good conscience and common sense prevails. Board members violating their own rules and/or their own code of ethical behavior is never a good thing. It will almost always come to light, and not in a good way.

Peace & Prosperity,

Laura Allen

You Can’t Please Everybody

I’m not referring to giving a massage…I’d like to think everyone that I’ve ever massaged was pleased, but in this instance, I’m talking about my blogs.

I try to report the news in the world of massage politics, and I interject my comments and opinions. I try to spur people to take action when I think it’s needed, whether that’s contacting a legislator or one of the professional associations or just spreading the word to other therapists.

Of course, not everyone agrees with me, and that’s okay. I’m not here to win a popularity contest, and I would probably keel over from the shock if I didn’t get the occasional angry phone call or snarky e-mail, or opposing comments on the blog from people who don’t see it the same way I do. I don’t censor comments except for really profane language, so even if you call me a moron, it will still be printed.

Occasionally I get an e-mail from one of my mentors trying to rein me in. They’re worried that my comments are too controversial, or that I’m going to infuriate the wrong person or some entity on the whole. While I appreciate their concern, I have to follow my conscience, speak my mind, and let the chips fall where they may.

When I’m reporting on an action concerning a person or an entity that I name in the blog, I am careful to report what’s verifiable; I only want to print what’s true. While I state opinion, it is never my intention to slander anyone by printing unfounded malicious gossip and therefore leave myself open to a lawsuit.  Believe me; I don’t print half of what I hear. Some of it has no relevance to the political issue at hand. I leave out juicy details sometimes, because I don’t think it would serve any useful purpose to include it. I’m not the National Enquirer talking about Tiger Woods cheating on his wife, although I do hear some of that occasionally. If it’s not relevant to massage, it’s not my business.

Sometimes I know the person, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I meet them after the fact. That’s always interesting. If it’s someone in the legislative or representative community and they’re not at the top of my radar, I sometimes ask people if I’ve written anything about them!

When I am reporting on political action by someone in the massage world, it isn’t a commentary on their personal life. I can disagree with some action that one of the leaders of an organization has taken and blog about that, and it doesn’t at all mean that I think that person is a bad parent, or a bad friend, or an all-around bad person. It means I am wondering what the heck they were thinking when they took whatever action I am writing about.

Even though I may disagree with someone in one of our organizations, I still appreciate the fact that the person is in service at all, particularly when it’s a volunteer position, and most board member positions are just that.

Sometimes, though, there is the occasional incident of getting one’s self positioned in an organization in the interest of making a lot of money, if there’s any opportunity for that, or someone who has a personal agenda they want to promote for some kind of gain or even one-upmanship, professional jealousy, or revenge. Rules of professional ethics and by-laws get ignored, or changed in mid-stream to suit the agenda of the person(s) involved. In that case, it’s not about being in service, and I don’t feel bad for exposing that. The people I write about aren’t pleased. But then again, you can’t please everybody, and I don’t try.

Peace & Prosperity,

Laura Allen

One of Life’s Little Lessons

Yesterday I notified COMTA that I have withdrawn my name from the ballot to be a commissioner.

The blog I wrote earlier this week, where I reported on some of the recent developments there and offered my opinions about them, didn’t sit well with the folks there, to the point where they were trying to figure out how to get rid of me before I ever got there.

I felt compelled to expose that, so I put up another blog about that.

After some heart-felt discussions with a few of my mentors, I have reached the conclusion that I don’t need to serve on any boards for the present time, other than completing the term I am currently serving on the North Carolina Board. I’m on my last year there. Our Board usually isn’t too controversial, and there aren’t many big doings there that would interest the rest of the world for the most part. We try to practice transparency there, and even though I’m a sitting member, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them out on something if I felt there was a need.

The fact is, I enjoy reporting on legislation and the happenings at all the professional associations of massage therapy…I have the freedom to report on comings and goings, expose activities be they mundane or shocking, and express my opinion whether it’s popular or not. If I’m working for an organization, my ability to report on them goes out the door. And I certainly don’t want my ability to speak my truth affected in any way.

I used to volunteer for AMTA, and I enjoyed that. I’ve enjoyed my time on the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy. It’s been very enlightening, although stressful at times. I like volunteering; I give 100% whenever I’m devoted to a task, and I would have done the same if I had been elected at COMTA. However, I think it serves the higher good if I’m free to expose what needs to be exposed, and comment on it,  no matter what entity is involved.

I’m still a member of AMTA, also a member of ABMP, a member of the Federation, a member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and an NCBTMB certificant and provider. I have a vested interest in what these organizations do, the ethical or unethical behavior of their leadership, and the transparency with which they conduct their business. And none of them are safe from my pen! Of course, it’s not all negative. I do give pats on the back when I think they deserve it.

I simply cannot give up my freedom of speech just so I can say I’m in some position somewhere, so no more “positions” for me. My chosen position is blogger, and I’m going to stick to that for the time being.

Peace & Prosperity,

Laura Allen