Tag Archives: ABMP

Is AMTA Passé?

Maybe or maybe not. But their method of selecting members and officers for the National Board of Directors sure is.

AMTA’s annual online election process just wrapped up on November 30. According to their official report, the number of members who voted during the month-long window hit an all-time low of 2.53%, or just 1,398 out of 55,276 members. That’s down from a whopping 2.66% participation rate in the 2013 and 2012 elections, and 2.83% in 2011.

These numbers sound pathetic, but how to they stack up in comparison to other organizations? In a 2012 study conducted by Votenet Soutions of election and voting trends in 239 non-profit professional and trade associations, the average voter turnout was 32%. That’s more than ten times the involvement of AMTA members over the past four years.

You might think this is a case of “Who cares about these positions–it’s just a bunch of massage people who like to get free trips to out-of-town hotels where they have meetings and party and get to feel important.” Well, AMTA is the largest non-profit in our field, and their Board of Directors controls an annual budget of more than $14 Million Dollars. That’s a lot of green that can  benefit the profession if it is spent wisely. Or, it can continue to be used (as most of it has gone) to keep sending elected officers and committee chairs to national and state meetings where little gets done.

The decline in the voting for AMTA elections is just a symptom of a larger problem. The bottom line is that AMTA is stuck in an old social-welfare model that resists change, while most of the people in our profession have moved into the social media age. Chapters and meetings are less important, strong brand identity and consistent delivery of needed services trumps all. That’s why ABMP has beat the pants off AMTA in the membership race.

From its origins as a small rebel organization in 1988, ABMP pulled up even with AMTA’s numbers sometime around 2005, and has left them in the dust since then. ABMP now has more than 80,000 members, without the burden of a state chapter system or the complexity of holding conventions. AMTA is hovering below 60,000 members, and can’t seem to get much traction.

In my last blog, I wrote about the elections mess created by some of AMTA’s own officials who couldn’t hold to a clearly-stated policy around not making the whole thing a partisan affair. Since President-Elect Jeff Smoot (who was not up for election this round) felt compelled to publish his own candidate endorsements, the AMTA Commissioner of Elections (which is a position appointed by the President-Elect) threw the doors open for all state and national officers to get into the partisan parade. This is further evidence that AMTA needs to make a major shift in how it selects its governing board.

Since the participation rate in national elections is moving towards zero, AMTA should amend its Bylaws to chuck the election process for the Board of Directors in favor of a leadership development model. The focus would shift to an expanded Commission on Candidacy, which would function like an executive search firm. A call for candidates would be put out in each cycle, and the Commission would be responsible for interviewing and selecting the most qualified individuals to serve on the National Board.

Annually, when a new Board is configured, the members themselves would elect a President, Vice-President and Treasurer. Other changes that need to be made include term limits, and mandatory time-outs after serving, so that the same people do not keep recycling back around.

There are a lot of talented and committed people who belong to AMTA, and I bet that more of them would be willing to step forward to serve in key leadership positions if the old clique system was banished. We need to grow up our profession, and AMTA should be part of the solution, not the problem.

AMTA Election: A Social Media Storm

It’s time for AMTA National elections, and so far, it’s a hot mess. The ruckus all started when Presdident-Elect Jeff Smoot made a post on Facebook announcing his own choices among the candidates.

I have known Smoot for a few years through the association, and I sent him a private message that I thought he was making a tactical error. We had a little back-and-forth but the post remained; he felt it was okay to have posted it and his post said that the Commission on Candidacy Chair and the Chair of Elections have determined that his FB post falls under the realm of “personal conversation.”  As of today, he has 665 FB friends–a lot more than some, a lot less than others, but that’s a relatively good-sized personal conversation.

Some other officers, present and former, and interested readers (including me) weighed in with concerns about the legality and ethics of the post–including some who have gotten in trouble for lesser social media offenses before. And as several people pointed out, other national health care organizations do not allow their board members to endorse candidates who are running for office in their organizations. Others stated they were glad to see it and felt it was overdue for the organization to join the 21st century and get with the social media program. Although I haven’t seen anyone say it publicly on FB, I’ve received a few private messages suggesting that he should resign, and barring that, that the organization should remove him from office.

I personally emailed current President Nancy Porambo and Executive Director Bill Brown about the situation. Porambo was nice enough to call me, and stated that Smoot’s post wasn’t a violation, but she was aware there were some perception problems with it.

However, AMTA’s own Policy Manual seems to be a confusing train wreck on this issue. Under  “Campaigning” (Section XII), Item 4 states

Candidates may:Utilize social networks to inform people of their candidacy, position, or issues, and respond to questions.

Directly under that, Item G states

Volunteers shall not use their current AMTA position to promote a candidate.

Item H goes on to further state

Violations of this section, Campaigning, may result in the removal of a candidate from the ballot, making them ineligible for election.

Obviously, someone is confused. Technically, Smoot’s announcing his choice of candidates could be considered a “position.” But Item G looks pretty cut and dried to me. I think AMTA needs to go back to the table and fix this mess, which was, according to the date on the policy, just revised barely more than a week ago on October 29.

It’s all moot to me. I dropped my own membership in AMTA this past August after more than a decade of being a member. I didn’t like the fact that The Wizard of Oz was hired for a fortune to be the keynote speaker at the national convention, and the chapter fee fiasco is still sticking in my craw. But the main clincher, when I called them on that, was that it was done by the BOD in executive session, without knowledge of the chapter presidents, because “the competition was in the room” (meaning ABMP.) Well, guess what…ABMP is always in the room during the Board meeting at the national convention; at least they have been at the 10 conventions I have attended. That’s mighty convenient for casting aside transparency. I attended the chapter meetings in three different states soon after that change came to light, and it had substantially affected the budgets of all of them negatively; not to mention the fact the budgets  had already been done for the coming year and had to be done again to take the fee losses into consideration. Yes, there are people who will continue to support their chapters, but just as many will probably not pay anything they don’t have to. It’s my opinion that the chapters and the Massage Therapy Foundation are going to suffer from this policy, and I hope it is revisited.

I have always loved participating in my state chapter and have taught classes in many AMTA chapters, and I have loved them all. I wish the organization well, but they need to clean this up immediately.

 

 

 

Deal, or No Deal?

In my last blog, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I reported that the only good thing that came out of the recent FSMTB Annual Meeting was the announcement that NCBTMB and FSMTB had reached an agreement on licensing exams, which promised to spell the end of the long “exam wars”. FSMTB trumpeted this news in their October 3rd press release, which stated:

“FSMTB and the NCBTMB have worked cooperatively to reach an agreement that the NCBTMB will no longer provide examinations for licensure purposes and will now focus exclusively on delivering quality certification programs. This supports the common goal of the FSMTB, Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP), American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE), for the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) to be utilized as the sole licensure exam for the profession, thus facilitating licensure portability for therapists.”

Too bad that we really can’t celebrate this news because the so-called “agreement” did not include the Approved Continuing Education Provider Program operated by NCBTMB (which 27 state massage boards use in one way or another). Like rubbing salt in the wound, the FSMTB turned right around and passed a resolution to create their very own CE approval program–as if NCBTMB didn’t exist.

It actually gets worse. I received word that at last week’s Florida Board of Massage Therapy meeting in Orlando, it was stated publicly that there was really only a “letter of intention” between the two organizations that was signed before the FSMTB Annual Meeting, and that the details of this letter would be worked out later in a formal agreement.

Now I’m no attorney, but a letter of intention is NOT the same thing as a legally-binding agreement. It’s more like putting a small deposit down on a house to get the process started, with the purchase contract and the mortgage money to come later. A lot can happen between those two steps.

So I’m confused here… is there a deal, or is it no deal? For the FSMTB to send out a national press release with the subject line “FSMTB AND NCBTMB REACH AGREEMENT” when no final document appears to have been signed, raises all kinds of red flags and ethical questions.

We never needed two competing licensing exams, and we sure as blazes don’t need two competing national CE approval programs. Looks like it’s time for the heads of these two organizations to get back to the negotiating table and work out the rest of this deal, for the benefit of the CE community and the profession as a whole.  And don’t come out until you get it settled!

Model Practice Act Causing an Uproar

Disclosure: I am a peer reviewer for COMTA.

I have complained a lot about massage therapists sitting on their hands, not having any interest or involvement in governance, and not caring or being informed about what is going on until it’s too late to do anything about it. I can’t make that complaint about massage school owners in the past couple of weeks. I’ve never seen such a hue and cry over any other issue.

The Model Practice Act is on its second period of public comments, and I’m pretty sure the FSMTB is hearing from a lot of upset people. I had a few issues with the first draft, and I hear it got about 1300 comments. I’m willing to bet this one will get twice that, caused by a one-word change in the following definition, found in Section 103(B):

Approved Massage Therapy Education Program means a school or educational program that meets the criteria established in rule by the Board, at a minimum includes 625 clock hours and is both authorized in the jurisdiction in which it is located and is accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education. Education received outside of the United States must be substantially equivalent to the criteria of this Act and must be recognized by the jurisdiction in which it is located.

In the first MPA draft, this requirement for schools was stated as state authorization AND/OR accreditation. The removal of just one word here makes a world of difference, which has set the massage education community into a tizzy.

My Facebook is buzzing with comments from school owners, teachers, and other interested parties. Overwhelmingly, the feeling is that this is going to put a lot of schools out of business. There are also people that feel that we have about twice as many massage schools in the US as what are really needed, and that this has led to churning out too many graduates, which has led to a glut in the job market, and contributed to the proliferation of franchised massage (or maybe it’s because of franchised massage).

Rick Rosen is the co-owner of Body Therapy Institute in Siler City, NC, one of only two schools in our state that are accredited by COMTA, shared some of his comments on it with me:

There are two primary reasons this accreditation requirement is inappropriate and potentially damaging: First is the fact that about half of all massage schools in the U.S. are not accredited. In general, these are smaller proprietary institutions that only offer massage programs. It is doubtful that most of these schools could qualify for accreditation even if they wanted it, because of the lack of financial resources. Smaller schools that are undercapitalized are unlikely to be able to meet the financial ratio requirements of COMTA and the other accreditors, not to mention the initial and ongoing costs of accreditation.

These massage-only institutions embody the lineage of massage therapy and the healing arts, as contrasted with for-profit career colleges and publicly-funded community colleges where massage is one program among dozens (if not hundreds). Mandatory accreditation WILL cause many of these smaller schools to close, which would be a tremendous loss for our field.

Second, COMTA is the only specialized accreditor in the massage therapy field, and the only agency with competency-based curriculum standards. Institutional accreditation by the other six vocational accreditors and the seven regional higher education accreditors fails to provide a meaningful measure of quality assurance for the massage program itself.

Therefore, it makes no sense for FSMTB to include an institutional accreditation requirement in its Model Practice Act when such accreditation (in the case of non-COMTA-accredited schools) ignores the elements that are critical to producing a well-trained massage therapist. It is the integrity of the program’s curriculum, the competency of the instructors and the consistent application of admissions criteria that are the critical elements that make a sound massage therapy program — far more so than the financial and operational standards that comprise the bulk of institutional accreditation.

So, if roughly half the massage schools in the U.S. cannot qualify for accreditation, and the other half (minus the 67 schools and branch campuses that are under COMTA accreditation) are accredited under institutional standards that do not reliably produce skilled and employable massage therapists who last more than two years in practice — where does that leave us?

We need a regulatory structure for schools that can satisfy the minimum requirements of state massage statues for protection of the public, while preserving the ability of our smaller massage schools to exist. In addition, we need a mechanism to bring all massage programs under single set of programmatic standards to establish consistency of entry-level training that is impossible to achieve within the current system.

Rosen’s solution is for COMTA to add a non-accreditation level program approval to its scope, which would require the blessing of the USDE. In addition, all massage schools with institutional accreditation from other agencies would also need to seek programmatic accreditation from COMTA – a structure that is common in other regulated professions. The language in Section 103(B) of the MPA would then need to be changed to include programmatic accreditation OR approval by COMTA – along with approval or licensure by the educational authority in the jurisdiction in which the school operates.

There are a lot of other school owners out there that don’t feel any accreditation should be required at all, particularly owners of small schools who have long-standing, successful programs that have lasted for decades without accreditation. Accreditation is not cheap. It’s time-consuming to initially obtain, and time-consuming and expensive to renew. While I have heard many small school owners talk about the expense as a deterrent to getting accreditation, I’ve heard as many others say “I’m not going to have anyone telling me how I have to run my school.”

Sandy Fritz, who has owned a school (not accredited) for more than 30 years and is a well-known author and advocate for massage education, stated on her blog that accreditation was a good thing–and then it moved away from a process to determine excellence and became a hurdle to jump across to access the cash cow of financial aid.

Actually, institutional accreditation has always been about being a financial gateway rather than a hallmark of excellence. When COMTA came on the scene, it was the first accreditor to offer programmatic standards that were meaningful to massage education. Unfortunately, they’re also the smallest player on the accreditation field and have no real ability to affect the whole.

I can’t speak to the other accrediting agencies, for my experience as a peer reviewer for COMTA is that a school that seeks the accreditation is sending a powerful message: “I do more than the state requires me to do.” Accreditation involves an in-depth self-study, and documentation, documentation, documentation. If it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist. But that’s a good thing. It ensures that policies and procedures are in place that are for the good of the student, the good of the school, and the good of the profession.

COMTA has been criticized for including pseudoscience (energy work) amongst the things that are acceptable for curricula in accredited schools. Without have read the standards of the other accrediting agencies, my guess is that they do, as well. The NCBTMB condones it, the AMTA and ABMP both condone it, the FSMTB condones it, so COMTA is hardly the lone ranger. It just goes to show, once again, that massage therapy accreditation is not being held to the same standards as medical professions do with their accreditation, which is why we’re still a vocation and not a profession.

The period of public comment ends on August 15. If you want your voice to be heard, you should seize the opportunity by clicking here.

 

Weekend Update

A lot has happened this past week. First of all, the massage world lost a wonderful person with the passing of Dan Barrow. He was the long-time moderator in the AMTA House of Delegates, among his many other accomplishments, and was just one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He will be missed. My sympathies go out to his lovely wife Virgina and his family and friends. You can read his complete obituary here.

One good thing happened this week. Steph Lasch was arrested at the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport after she had boarded a plane bound for Beijing, China, with her husband and her son. This has been a long road for a lot of massage therapists. In case you don’t know the background, you can read it here.

Since last fall, I have been communicating regularly with the Lino Lakes Police Department to keep up with what has been happening in her case. I had provided them with numerous pages of FB conversations and other print items where she claimed to be a certified public accountant, a certified fraud investigator, a third-year law student, a tax expert, a marketing expert, and everything except the president of the United States.The dozens of massage therapists who reported her to that department, and also to the FBI, the Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, and everywhere else they could turn to will hopefully get some justice now. People may never get their money back, but it is my big hope that her actions do not go unpunished.

Although she never got any of my money personally, I had appeared, along with three other women, as a blogger (about professional ethics, at her request) on a massage coaching website she had going on. She had announced far and wide that I was her mentor, and I felt compelled to just keep trying to spread the word about the avenues people could use to complain on account of that. The police report actually focuses on the money she defrauded massage clients of at her business location, and not the dozens of therapists she stole from. In any case, she’s currently in jail. I’d love to attend her trial. You can read about it here. My last piece of advice to her was to get her act together for the sake of her child. I contacted the LLPD again this evening and they told me that her son was handed over to her husband; they were on the plane with Steph but her husband was not charged with anything.

Champ and I attended the NC AMTA Convention in Statesville this weekend. We had a good time visiting with people we don’t see often enough and both of us enjoyed our continuing education. Champ took an ethics class with Felicia Brown and I took a class in teaching and classroom management from Dr. James Zarick. One of the best classes I have ever attended. Desiree Sawyer was elected as our new chapter president. I spent this morning visiting with Mike Hinkle, founder of the World Massage Festival. I am honored to be the keynote speaker at this year’s Festival in Las Vegas. I guess I’ll just try to make as few people mad as possible!

I spoke up at the business meeting about AMTA national office decision to do away with chapter fees. I want it to go on the record that I think this is the worst move this organization has ever made. In my opinion only, this move was designed to make AMTA’s membership fee more competitive with ABMP. The fact is, ABMP has a different business model than AMTA. ABMP does not have state chapters to support. They don’t have hundreds of volunteers. Personally, I think they’re a fine organization with fine people at the top, and they just operate differently. I think AMTA needs to quit worrying about ABMP and focus on doing the best for the massage profession. This is impacting chapter budgets, and while they have rolled out some additional benefits for the chapters, I don’t think it offsets what they’re losing. I’ve seen the budgets from three different states in the last few weeks and it is having an impact, and not a good one. I think they will regret this move in the long run. I’d like to see a massive letter-writing campaign to the Board of Directors describing the negative impact this will have on the chapters’ ability to provide top-notch education experiences on a state level and on chapter donations to the Massage Therapy Foundation. Please do that here.

I’ve had an emotional week myself. I implemented some changes at my business, which never happens without a few growing pains, and the death of an old friend whose funeral I had to miss in order to attend the convention have made me a little whacked out this week. Then hearing the news about Dan Barrow, followed by the news about Steph Lasch, and it has seemed like a roller coaster. The world just keeps turning.

Peace and Prosperity.


CAMTC: Under the Gun, ABMP Says “Declare Victory and Move On”

I’ve spent the past day or so reviewing the CAMTC Sunset Review Report…at over 200 pages, it’s a narrative of the who, what, where, when, and why of the organization, which is now in its fifth year.

California operates differently from the other regulated states. The CAMTC is not officially a state regulatory board. It is a non-profit organization, offering voluntary certification. It is just my opinion that this is a big improvement over the previous state of affairs there, when there was nothing at all, other than each municipality regulating as they chose, which more often that not meant that legitimate massage therapists were classified along with sex workers and treated the same way. I’ve heard horror stories from therapists who have in the past been made to take a test for STDs, along with paying money to each individual town in which one was practicing. Someone doing outcalls may have been looking at a separate license and another financial burden in many different places. The CAMTC aimed to put a stop to this by getting it into the statutes that if you had the CAMTC certification, you were allowed to skip all the local hoops. It was a very hard battle.

During the Sunset hearing process last week, ABMP Chairman Bob Benson testified. Benson served the CAMTC Board for four years, including a term as the initial Vice Chair. He attended 51 of the 52 meetings held during his tenure. His complete testimony may be read here. Benson’s opening remarks referenced the Vietnam war, in speaking to the present state of affairs at the CAMTC, and he urged the organization to “Declare victory and move on.” I have heard from several veterans who were very upset about that analogy and feel that Benson’s remarks showed a great disrespect for the people who served in Vietnam and a cheapening of those who lost their lives there. I have met Benson personally on several occasions and I don’t think he would intentionally insult veterans, but I have to agree it was not the best choice for comparison.

Beyond that opening faux pas, Benson brings up the following points about the weaknesses he perceives in the CAMTC. One is that CEO Ahmos Netanel is wearing too many hats. There is no controller or operations officer or chief financial officer; Netanel is doing all three jobs, apparently. There’s no doubt he’s a busy man; I run into him myself at national meetings.

Benson also points out other problems: the unwieldy size of the Board–20 people (although currently there are only 19); the fact that there is no central office, which leads to communication and control challenges; a lack of adequate information on the website and delays in getting things posted; 5 years in operation and as of yet no customer satisfaction surveys; a lack of data on how much the CAMTC is paying their management company; a lack of salary standards, and unsatisfactory performance metrics for the dissemination about applicants and certificate holders.He also actually refers to their plan to start approving establishments and massage schools as “delusional.”

Benson isn’t one to complain without offering a solution, so his suggestions are the transition of this organization into a formal state regulatory board, as the other regulated states have; to substitute mandatory licensing for voluntary certification; to use 2015 as a transitional year; and to honor CAMTC certificates and allow holders to convert them to a state license on their expiration date without jumping through any further hoops.

I contacted Ahmos Netanel and gave him the opportunity to respond to Benson’s comments. His reply below is verbatim:

In his comments during the March 10, 2014 legislative Joint Oversight Hearing: Sunset Review of CAMTC, Bob Benson, acting as the voice of ABMP (Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals), advocates for dismantling the current statewide certification program and instituting a state board for regulating massage therapy under the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). Bob Benson is certainly dedicated to the massage profession; however, he is a minority voice.  In fact, no CAMTC Board member has ever expressed a position similar to his.

The CAMTC Board has accomplished a great deal.  Yes, as with any new organization, there is room for improvement.  However, in a very short time, by any standard, we have put a statewide infrastructure in place to work closely with police and local government, and there is no doubt that consumers can have confidence that a CAMTC certified professional is educated to safely provide care. 

CAMTC has done more than simply oversee the certification of qualified massage therapy professionals. CAMTC has initiated work with local authorities, local elected officials, professional organizations, other stakeholders and the Legislature to modify its enabling law to correct issues and oversights. Presently, the Sunset review process implemented by the Legislature allows for the substantive amendments needed to control illegal massage parlors.  In doing so, we want to be respectful of the work being done by legitimate massage providers and not return to the era of onerous patchwork enforcement— the kind of control that simply assumes massage is adult entertainment.

CAMTC also investigates and un-approves schools as part of ensuring that certification candidates met strict educational requirements.  Ironically, the state bureau which regulates private post-secondary schools, now BPPE, was allowed to sunset between July 2007 and January 2009.  The lack of an official school oversight body during that time had a significant negative impact on the massage industry and the safety of the public.  Stepping in since 2010, CAMTC, with only minimal resources, has been able to un-approve 47 massage schools that were not meeting minimum standards for massage education and we hope to do more beginning in 2015.

In the ongoing and important effort to eradicate illegal massage parlors, CAMTC is asking the Legislature for the authority to provide statewide registration and investigation of massage establishments.  Many local jurisdictions lack the resources to effectively stem the tide of these illicit businesses and CAMTC is up to the challenge. 

The problems raised by the police chiefs and the cities are our problems, too.  Their complaints and concerns are issues we are addressing with great success in many parts of California.  For example, our training programs have been attended by more than 100 local agencies. And many cities – impressed by our organization – now require CAMTC certification. 

The proliferation of illegal massage parlors is bigger than massage therapy alone, but we are an integral part of the solution.  We propose:

  • Raising educational standards
  • Establishing a registration program for establishments
  • Expending local government control over the use of massage as a subterfuge for prostitution

A state board under DCA has merit. It also has significant drawbacks, including starting a new entity from scratch. It is likely that a new state board would take anywhere from 2 to 5 years to become fully operational.  The cost in terms of time and state resources is not warranted when CAMTC is already in place and functioning successfully. 

Further, a state board simply cannot function as efficiently as a private entity like CAMTC.  Consider, as was discussed on March 10th in the Joint Oversight hearing for the DCA, that the current time for disciplinary actions by DCA boards is 540 days, despite the target of 180 days.  Just scheduling a hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings takes approximately 200 days (testimony by the Legislative Analyst’s Office). Furthermore, the cost to discipline or revoke a state license is over ten times greater than what it costs CAMTC  to discipline or revoke a certificate holder.  CAMTC provides a high level of due process to certificate holders at a lower cost and in fraction of the time that it takes a state board to do the same.

Whatever the merits of moving to a state board under the DCA, it is not going to happen by magic nor will it happen overnight.  It will be a long, costly process. And dismantling CAMTC won’t benefit California consumers or those individuals practicing massage therapy in California.  Rather, it will leave a gaping chasm for both.  

Legitimate massage providers create jobs, promote a healthy lifestyle, and enhance communities.  We cannot go back to the antiquated and oppressive patchwork regulation of the past.  It won’t solve the problem of illicit massage parlors or correct any of the other issues about which cities are concerned.  Only working together – CAMTC alongside cities – can we protect both the public and legitimate massage providers. 

CAMTC is proud of its successes and we look forward to working with the police chiefs, the local communities and Bob himself to do great things for the massage therapy profession and the public.

Respectfully,

Ahmos Netanel

Chief Executive Officer

California Massage Therapy Council

I do not wish to minimize any of the accomplishments and hard work of the CAMTC. I applaud what they have done. However, I’m in agreement with Benson on this one; I’d prefer to see them with mandatory licensing instead of voluntary certification. It won’t be the answer to every problem; it never is. But I do urge them to make the transition, and hopefully, that can be accomplished without the gaping chasm Netanel mentioned.

 

 

 

ELAP: Now that I’ve Read the Whole Thing…

I spent most of my spare time during the past week reading the Final Report and the Entry-Level Education Blueprint of the ELAP. Again, I will offer my appreciation for the collaboration of the Coalition and the team that actually performed the work on this. It was a big project and obviously, people took time away from their own pursuits to participate in it.

Now that I have read the whole thing in its entirety, I have a few observations on it. I quote from the Coalition statement:

We aspire to have this report influence several profession audiences:

• the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, which can use The Core as it builds guidelines for a model practice act;

My comment on that: The press release announcing that the FSMTB was going to create a Model Practice Act first appeared on April 1, 2011. In a letter I received dated Jan.31, 2014, FSMTB Executive Director Debra Persinger stated that the Task Force is currently completing the final revisions before releasing it for public comment.

It’s just my opinion that the ELAP will be a last-minute inclusion in that, if it does in fact get included.

• state licensing boards, which can use The Core in setting education requirements for licensees;

My comment on that: What is the Model Practice Act doing, if not that? It seems very possible that this is a duplication of efforts. While there are of course other things included in a practice act, one of them is spelling out the hours of required education. I don’t know any state board that goes much beyond setting the total number of required hours, and how that should be broken down in a general list of required subject matter. Not to mention changing a practice act requires legislative action.

the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, which can refer to The Core in creating teacher training standards and curricula;

My comment on that: Aha! And therein lies the clincher and the biggest issue I have with it. Since I couldn’t say it any better myself, I am going to share the comment that Rick Rosen left on my FB page:

“The critical missing element that will prevent the ELAP Core Curriculum from being implemented on a wide scale is the lack of teacher training in our field.

I simply cannot fathom why the cash-rich organizations in our field (AMTA, ABMP, FSMTB) would spend significant sums of money on a curriculum development project, while they continue to turn their back on providing the financial support needed to carry forward the Alliance’s National Teacher Education Standards Project. Without this long-term investment in teacher development, educational outcomes and the quality of massage therapy services delivered will remain inconsistent at best.

My comment on Rosen’s comment: Nailed it on the head. And it would be another interesting research project to determine what the average training is of teachers in massage schools across the US.

I will repeat Rosen’s sentiments by saying I would like to see all the organizations give this kind of support to the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education and their National Teacher Standards Education Project. 

The Alliance is the youngest organization out there, and does not yet have the kind of cash reserves built up to move this project along at a better pace. The fact is these kinds of projects do require money in order to come to fruition. The Alliance membership is made up of educators and industry partners, and will never have the kind of membership numbers enjoyed by the other organizations by virtue of that fact. I can visualize the ELAP being very useful to the teacher training project–but they need the money to make it happen. I urge our other organizations and industry supporters to put your money into this project.

• the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, which can use The Core as it identifies beginning vs. advanced knowledge and skills for its Board Certification credential;

My comment on that: The Board Certification exam is already out there and is still practically new. I don’t see any major revisions taking place on it any time soon. The NCBTMB is using their “old” certification exam for their entry-level licensing exams, and has been for years. As a certification exam and a licensing exam should require two different job task analysis surveys and one should not be interchangeable with the other, they are already in muddy water, and I don’t really see how this will clear it up. And, as is the case with the MBLEx, the exams that the NCB is using for entry-level licensing are geared to a 500-hour education requirement. Again, this would require major changes to that as well.

• professional membership organizations, which can use The Core in shaping membership criteria;

My comment on that: Pay the money, show proof that you are either a student or a licensee or a practitioner in an unregulated state, and boom! you’re a member. Within the past few months, myself and others made well-documented complaints about an unethical practitioner who was scamming fellow massage therapists and try as we might, we could not get her removed from the membership rolls of AMTA or the massage listing service. She has now finally been removed, after it was reported that she was also scamming her clients. Or she just didn’t pay her membership renewal fee. Either way, she’s no longer listed, but it took months to get any action on that front.

• the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, which can use the Core in evaluating massage and bodywork curricula for programmatic accreditation;

My comment on that: COMTA has had their competencies spelled out for years. The basic difference I see is that ELAP is spelling out the number of hours to be spent in each subject matter area.

• other accrediting organizations, which can use The Core in shaping their accreditation criteria;

My comment on that: COMTA is the only accreditation organization devoted to massage therapy (and they now also include asthetic programs). The other accreditation programs I am aware of approve of all kinds of schools and programs and use the same evaluation criteria for a massage program as they would an engine repair program. I don’t realistically see it having impact on these types of accrediting agencies, although it would be nice if it did.

• school owners, administrators and faculty, who can use The Core to strengthen or validate curricula and to adopt consistent learning outcomes;

My comment on that: I wholeheartedly agree. I encourage all school owners, administrators and faculty to read this document…and I know the majority won’t take the time. I have seen the prevailing attitude of “I’m not going to let anyone tell me what to do at my school,” when I have tried to promote COMTA accreditation (disclosure: I have been a COMTA peer reviewer). It doesn’t matter if it would vastly improve their existing program. Stubbornness is hard to overcome.

• and potential massage therapy students, as they consider where to enroll.

My comment on that: I would be shocked to know that any potential student is ever going to read the 527- page document to help them choose a school. Just my opinion.

More of my unsolicited opinion: I am not critical of this document on the whole. I think it spells out a good foundational education for entry-level massage therapists as it was meant to do, and it requires 625 hours to do it in.

There are still 26 states here with a 500-hour minimum requirement. While it is very true that there are many schools that exceed their state’s hour requirement, there are also a large number of school owners that are determined they are not ever going to do more than the state requires. Neither do I see it having much effect, if at all, in states that already have higher requirements for education.

The ELAP report states that a 2012 survey showed schools are teaching an average of 697 hours. Still, if this were to be legally adopted, which I think is a long shot at best, it would undoubtedly put some schools in the position of “cooperate or close down,” which in the general scheme of things, might not be a bad thing, if their students are not truly well-prepared.

I am just of the opinion that being prepared to pass an entry-level examination, and being prepared for the real world of massage, are two very different things. It also isn’t about hours, per se, but about competencies–a statement, in fairness, made in the ELAP–but it does take a certain number of hours to teach those competencies, and this is what the work group decided on.

Bottom line: I like it, but I do think that in spite of the Coalition statement of support, that there has been some unnecessary duplication of efforts on some of their parts here, and that a good curriculum can only be effective with good, well-trained teachers. I’d like to see an equal amount of time, money, and effort spent on the National Teacher Standards Education Project. 

 

 

ELAP Final Report & Entry-Level Education Blueprint Released

The Entry-Level Analysis Project Final Report and the Entry-Level Education Blueprint were released today, and it’s a whopper…266 pages in the Report, and 527 pages in the blueprint. Obviously, I haven’t read that all this morning. I do want to take the time to express my appreciation for the collaboration among the Coalition (ABMP, AFMTE, AMTA, COMTA, FSMTB, MTF, and NCBTMB) and to Anne Williams of ABMP in particular, for spearheading the project. Both documents were co-authored by the ELAP workgroup, which included Pat Archer, Clint Chandler, Rick Garbowski, Tom Lochhaas, Jim O’Hara, Cynthia Ribeiro, and Anne Williams.

According to the Report, at the initial meeting of the Coalition in 2011, two pressing issues were identified: the inconsistent quality, depth, and focus of entry-level massage programs, and the lack of licensure portability from state to state.

The big recommendation is that 625 hours of education are needed just to give students the core basics that they need for entry-level competency. According to the report, currently 28 states only require 500 hours; 7 require between 570 and 600, and 10 states require more than 625 hours. In my opinion only, no matter how wonderful the Blueprint, those states that already have higher standards won’t be inclined to dumb it down for the rest. New York and Nebraska, for example, both have 1000-hour requirements. I don’t see portability happening there–ever–unless every other state decides to come up to that level. However, the Report does reference a 2012 study that states the average massage program in the US is 697 hours–so maybe even in the states with the 500-hour requirement, there is a tendency to do more than required–and that’s nice.

For those schools that are less than 625 hours, this recommendation would undoubtedly increase financial costs to the owner that would have to be passed along to the student.

The shocking news, to me, is the statement that 40-50% of graduates are leaving the field within two years of graduation! I would be interested to know exactly how those figures were arrived at.The Report cites unrealistic expectations about the physical demands of massage and compensation, and the evolving life circumstances of 20-somethings. I’m personally not sure how relevant the 20-somethings are; it’s been my own experience in the past 15 years that there are as many middle-aged people (whatever that is, nowadays) that take up massage as a second career as there are young people who jump in right out of high school.

The workgroup would like to encourage everyone to pay more attention to the core curriculum than the hours. According to the document, this can serve everyone:

  • The Federation can use it as a guideline for the Model Practice Act
  • The state boards can use it in setting hours for education
  • The AFMTE can use it in setting teacher standards
  • COMTA can use it in evaluating massage and bodywork criteria for accreditation
  • the NCBTMB can use it for identifying entry-level vs. advanced knowledge for Board Certification
  • Professional membership associations can use it in shaping membership criteria
  • School owners, administrators and faculty can use it in validating curricula and adopting consistent learning outcomes
  • Potential massage therapy students, as they are deciding where to enroll.

There is, within the document, the subtopics of Eastern bodywork, TCM, concepts of qi and all the accompaniments to that, with the caveat that schools may choose to integrate that according to their own philosophy. The focus is on the application of Shiatsu, tui na and Thai massage, which I will not argue the efficacy of, without personally buying into the theory behind them. I’m not going to have this argument here because it wears me out, and frankly, I’m outnumbered.

There is no doubt that a huge amount of work went into this project. Personally, I gave a lot of feedback on it during the calls for comments that happened some months ago, as did several other educators I know. I wasn’t crazy about this idea when it was initially introduced, and I was further distressed by the way the review and comment process was set up…I didn’t think it was good to have such a piecemeal approach to it, but in reality, I feel that the chance that many more people would have responded to the whole thing is probably relatively slim…it would have been just as long in any case. Anne Williams stated during one of the presentations on it that I attended last year that it isn’t perfect, but what is? I sincerely do commend everyone who gave of their time and effort on this huge undertaking. I plan to say more about it after I’ve read every page.

 

Here’s the Rub

A couple of different things are bugging me today, so here’s the rub: The NCBTMB referring to their licensing exams as certification exams. There was a period of time when the licensing exams were referred to as the NESL–National Exam for State Licensing.

National Certification, as it previously existed, was retired on Dec. 31, 2012. People who are currently Nationally Certified under the old paradigm have until 2016 to comply with the requirements for the new Board Certification, or lose their “old” certification. I’m not sure of the date that the NCBTMB decided to drop the term “NESL” which indicated a licensing exam as opposed to a certification exam, but now that they have dropped that and are just referring to it as the NCETM/NCTMB, to me it is confusing the issue of what certification is–and is not. I spoke my mind about this yesterday to Steve Kirin and Leena Guptha, and they promised to take this under consideration. As Leena pointed out, they have a lot of things that have gone wrong over the years, and they can’t all be rectified overnight. I do hope they change back to the NESL…in reality they are the same exams, but using the NCETM/NCETMB acronyms has lead people to believe they are Nationally Certified, when in fact they are not–they have simply passed a licensing exam given by that Board, but it is not a certification.

In another development, AMTA sent out a press release this week announcing their new policy of making chapter fees optional. Previously, each chapter has charged whatever they deemed fit for their members to pay. In my state of NC, that was $15…an amount that I found quite reasonable because our chapter rocks! We have a very active organization.

I heard through the grapevine a month or so ago that this had happened, so I went to the source. In a conference call I had with Bill Brown, Winona Bontrager, and Chris Voltarel, they confirmed that the Board of Directors had made this decision in an executive session at the annual convention held in Dallas/Fort Worth, which I personally felt was improper, but they stated to me that it was not improper because direct competitors were present in the open board meeting. I assume they meant representatives of ABMP. I accepted that explanation. The fact is, ABMP is trouncing AMTA when it comes to the membership numbers. AMTA has been around for 75 years. ABMP has only been around for 27 years, and according to their website, they have over 80,000 members. AMTA claims to have about 56,000, the last I heard, but I have heard rumors of lower numbers.

However, I did inform them that I had also heard that Chapter presidents were upset about it, and that a petition was rumored to be going around protesting the decision. The response was “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” From my reports, the petition does exist but has not yet been sent to AMTA. Other than people grumbling about it on FB, there hasn’t been much said–maybe because most people just didn’t know. I made another phone call this week and complained because they hadn’t put out a press release, and that I thought the membership ought to be informed. Communications Director Ron Precht told me that members were being informed at renewal time, so they hadn’t put out anything about it, but apparently they changed their minds.

I posted the press release on my FB page a couple of days ago, and immediately got a few comments from people wondering if the chapters were going to suffer because of this move. I confess I am wondering myself. I hope not, but I have my doubts about the wisdom of this move. I reported on AMTA’s financial health a few weeks ago, and while they’re certainly not in any financial trouble as a national organization, I can’t speak to the financial health of the individual chapters.

One thing I can speak to is the fact that chapter money is used to pay lobbyists, among other things, and we need government representation now more than ever. The ACA stands to have an impact on the massage therapy profession. There are other things swirling from several fronts that could require legislative changes in many states, such as the Model Practice Act the FSMTB is working on, a continuing education paradigm shift that may or may not happen, and other things that government relations representation is clearly needed for. Although most chapters have a government relations representative, those folks are volunteers, and in all likelihood the vast majority does not have the same political savvy as someone who lobbies for a living. Here in NC, we were paying our lobbyist $20,000 a year the last time I looked. Experienced government relations people need to be on the scene anytime a sunset period is coming up, or anytime statutory changes are being considered. I don’t think the national office has the manpower to be everything to every state when it comes to that.

AMTA states in the press release that they will offer several new services to chapters, so they won’t be part of chapter expenses. And, if a chapter finds that it needs additional financial assistance to maintain necessary and high-caliber services to members, the National Board will look at providing funding. I hope they look hard at paying our lobbyists and not allowing crappy legislation to take over–particularly sunsetting a practice act.

One of the questions that arose on my FB page was what would happen to the huge donation AMTA makes to the Massage Therapy Foundation every year….usually that’s in the amount of $450,000. If they’re not taking it in, I don’t see how they can give it out. I certainly do not want to see the support for the Foundation fall by the wayside.

There are a number of people out there who aren’t going to pay any kind of fee that’s optional. On the whole, though, I think a lot of devoted AMTA members will continue to support their state chapters.

As a member, I have to say that I don’t think this was handled in the right manner. My own opinion is that instead of an executive decision that was made and then foisted upon us, the membership could have been surveyed, or at a minimum, the state chapter presidents polled. My guess is this we haven’t heard the last of this. I’ll take bets they’ll have to back up and punt.

The Financial Health of Our Organizations: NCBTMB

Thank you for your interest in my annual reports on the financial status of the major non-profit organizations of the massage therapy profession. I am not an accountant or a financial expert. This information was taken directly from FORM 990, the Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, which is published on Guidestar. This filing is for NCBTMB‘s fiscal year ending12-31-2012. Non-profits are on a different tax filing schedule than the rest of us.

This has not been a banner year for the NCBTMB. Revenues are down, no big surprise since they have been steadily declining every year since the MBLEx was introduced in 2007. During 2007, the revenue of the NCB was at an all-time high of $8,655,003. During 2012, the revenue was down to $4,616,227, a decline of over 4 million dollars in the past five years. If that isn’t the handwriting on the wall that it is past time for the NCBTMB to get out of the entry-level licensing exam business, I don’t know what is. AMTA, AFMTE, and ABMP have all supported the MBLEx as the licensing exam of choice. They just refuse to give it up.

In the past year alone, since my 2011 report, the examination revenue dropped over a million dollars. Recertification income actually went up by a little over $241K, but fees from the approved providers went down by almost $50K. Sales of their study guide for the exam is down by almost $33K as well. While sales of their mailing list remained stable at just over $40K, the revenue listed as “other” went down by $20K.

Executive compensation reflected then-CEO Mike Williams’ salary of $237,500, about $20K less than Paul Lindamood received on his best year. Board members at the NCB are compensated; the Chair during this period, Alexa Zaledonis, received $33,400. I won’t complain about that. In fact, I haven’t complained about any of the BOD compensation since the day Donna Feeley (now deceased) left office…during her two years at the helm, she got more than $100,000 a year. Legal fees were higher during Feeley’s term (2207-2008) than they have ever been before or since, hitting an all-time high of over $925K during her first term. That is attributable to a number of legal actions they brought against states who chose to use the MBLEx and to lawsuits from former staff members. During 2012, over $531K was spent on legal fees–my guess is for the same reasons.

Marketing and promotion, although it has gone down, seems to be disproportionately high to me, with $356K paid to their marketing firm, The Ohlman Group, and an additional $311K + spent on promotions and advertising. A little over $341K was spent on conferences and meetings.

The major expenditure is the exam administration fee paid to Pearson Vue, which is almost $900K. Another big expenditure is their rent, which is over $178,000–or almost $15K a month. I guess I am ignorant of real estate costs in the Chicago area, but it would have been smart a long time ago for the NCBTMB to purchase a property to house their offices; it may have been paid off by now or at least be building equity.

The net assets of the NCBTMB have declined by about $93K since last year, while their liabilities have increased by over $226K. The bottom line is, the NCBTMB has gone from showing a net of over $227K in 2011 to showing a loss of almost $174K in 2012.

I don’t think their losses are over. They have spent a lot of money during 2013 in rolling out the new Board Certification, which isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. I have heard the rumor that they appealed to the other massage organizations for financial aid at the recent Coalition meeting. As recently as a year or two ago, Rick Rosen and I were both calling on the FSMTB to offer the NCBMTB a financial incentive to get out of the entry-level exam business. It didn’t happen then, and it still has not happened. I doubt if the FSMTB is in any need of the NCBTMB’s test bank, and if they’re not, they really don’t have much to gain, if anything, by paying them off. Although the number of states that accept either the MBLEx or the Entry-Level State Licensing Exam from the NCBTMB are about the same in number, the public has spoken loud and clear about which exam is the exam of choice. The MBLEx is clearly at the head of the pack.

With net assets of a little over $2.5 million, the NCBTMB is not in immediate danger of closing the doors. Neither are they anywhere near being “in the money.”  Any organization needs cash reserves in order to survive–and they also need positive cash flow. If the NCB is going to survive at all, it’s just my opinion that they had better commence with the specialty certification exams and sooner rather than later. If they don’t get on the ball with that, someone may beat them to the punch. The problem is that it takes a lot of money to develop such things, and it looks like they may not have it. Time will tell.