Tag Archives: AMTA

The Financial Health of Our Organizations: AMTA

For the past few years, I have been reporting on the financial health of the non-profit organizations of the massage profession. I am not an accountant or a financial expert. My information comes from Guidestar, a clearinghouse for non-profit information that is available to anyone. Non-profits may post their filings on Guidestar, and if they don’t do it, the IRS will do it for them. My annual reports do not include ABMP; they are a for-profit company that claims membership of more than 80,000 massage therapists, about 25,000 more than AMTA. Non-profits operate on a different filing schedule; the date of this filing was for the fiscal year beginning March 1, 2012 and ending February 28, 2013.

AMTA appears to be in a stronger financial position than last year’s filing, due to a huge jump of almost $1 million in their investment income. Let’s all hope that bodes well for investments in general in the US. Just two years ago, their investments had actually lost over $34K. According to the 990, AMTA actually lost 1030 members from the previous year, with the membership standing at 55,368 people as of February 2013. They are listing 79 employees, down 5 from last year. However, the organization still lists 850 volunteers, the same as last year.

Total revenues increased by over $824K. Salaries and other compensation went up by over $258K, in spite of the small reduction in employees. Overall, expenses increased by about $219K, so there was a little belt-tightening elsewhere. The bottom line, of revenue minus expenses, looks much better than last year, with an increase of over $605K.

The biggest expenditures for the organization are staff salaries, with 6 individuals listed who receive more than $100K a year in compensation. Then-Executive Director Shelly Johnson received a little over $265K. CFO Larry Laboda received over $149K, while current ED but then-Deputy ED received almost $160K. David French, listed as the Director of Marketing, was paid over $105K; Mark Tyle, Director of Chapter Relations, received over $108K, and Jocelyn Pysarchuk, listed as Director of Knowledge Transfer, received over $102K.

The 12-member Board of Directors at AMTA is also compensated in amounts ranging from $5K-6K for members-at-large to almost $40K for the President.

AMTA paid over $800K to Daniel J. Edelman, Inc, their public relations firm. That seems like a steep amount of money to me, and I wonder what they are doing that a Director of Marketing couldn’t do, or vice-versa. Outsourcing is okay, but I’d like to know the differences in what is handled in-house and what is not. That’s a question for one of my future interviews with the management. AMTA did undertake a big campaign to educate the public and raise awareness about massage this year with the traveling van and appearances all over the country. I certainly do not begrudge them spending that money; it was well-received and got a huge amount of media attention.

Other than investments, AMTA’s primary source of income is of course membership dues, which brought in over $11 million.

AMTA spent $72K on lobbyists last year, and personally, I’d like to see that figure raised in the next year. I recently called on AMTA and the other massage organizations to make a concerted effort to get the NCBTMB removed from all statutory language in the regulated states, and that’s going to require lobbying money. I suggest that they spend it in the interest of straightening out some of the mess that the massage profession is in.

Office expenses are more than $1.2 million. That’s a lot of paperclips. AMTA also spent more than $490K on travel. Hopefully, that’s economy class. Many massage therapists are struggling in our present economy.  I realize we can’t hold the national convention at Motel 6, but every year I hear from dozens of people who wish they could attend, but don’t, because of the cost.

I personally have enjoyed my years with AMTA. Our state chapter (NC) is one of the larger and more active chapters, and I haven’t missed one of the national conventions in years. The fellowship and volunteer spirit and continuing education opportunities there are alive and well; I’m sorry to see the organization is losing members instead of gaining. May that turn around as much as their investment income did. It doesn’t look like this organization is in any danger of going away anytime soon.

Calling All Massage Organizations: 911

I’ve seen some ups and downs since joining the massage profession about 15 years ago, but never, in all that time, have I been as disgusted and dismayed with one of our organizations as I am today. I feel as if I have a vested interest in all of them, so I have the right to complain—and to call on them for help.

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork was the only path to licensing in many regulated states for a lot of years. Their exams are written into the statutes of about 40 states, as is the MBLEx, which has soared in popularity as the exam of choice in the past 5 years. The exam revenue at the NCBTMB has been steadily declining ever since the MBLEx debuted. The “National Certification Exams” as they formerly existed are the same exams being used for the NESL.

It used to be that taking one exam gave you the status of being Nationally Certified and being able to use that to get your license, but that’s no longer the case. There’s no attraction there anymore. The Federation has been in a position for several years to help solve this problem by buying out the NCBTMB’s entry-level exams; they certainly have the money and the infrastructure in place, but they have apparently preferred to stand by and watch the NCBTMB die a slow painful death rather than be in collaboration. Although I have favored the idea of such a deal in the past, at this point in time I am not going to blame the FSMTB for their refusal to play ball.

The majority of regulated states also have it written into their statutes that the continuing education required for maintaining licensure must be from a provider of CE that is approved by the NCBTMB.

As a provider of CE, I was not pleased when the Federation brought up their MOCC (Maintenance of Core Competencies) plan, which would have made all CE optional, with the exception of classes related to public protection, put forth online by them. My concern was that it would put a lot of CE providers, including me, out of business. In reality, based on some of the claptrap that is approved by the NCBTMB, there are a lot of CE providers that should be put out of business. The NCB’s response to my own repeated questioning of some of the things they have approved for CE has not been satisfactory to date.

According to FSMTB Executive Director Debra Persinger, they have let go of the MOCC plan, based on feedback from the profession and member boards. Instead, they have put forth a Standardized License Renewal Recommendation. In a nutshell, the language reads: Licensed massage and bodywork therapists will be required to complete six (6) hours of license renewal requirements annually. At least three (3) of the six hours must meet the State-sponsored Ethics and Professional Practice course requirements that specifically address content pertaining to public safety. The remaining three (3) hours could be exchanged for certain Professional Development activities, including but not limited to meeting accredited certification standards, community service, and research.

Bear in mind, that has not been written into the law anywhere yet that I am aware of, and it is what it is—a recommendation.

In my conversation with Persinger this afternoon, she informed me that the online classes pertaining to public protection will roll out in 2014, and that states that require in-person classes will still be able to have that. She also stated that at the annual meeting of the FSMTB held earlier this month, the member states asked that the Federation form a new CE Task Force to look into the possibility of approving continuing education.

I can recall what I thought was the beginning of the downhill slide at the NCBTMB…and it was years ago. I’ve seen an egomaniac that was hell-bent on bankrupting the organization elected to the Chair position. I’ve seen lawsuits filed against them by two of their former executive directors that dragged on for years. I’ve seen the lawsuits they have filed against state boards for getting rid of their exams. Yes, they had the legal right to do that, but in the big picture, it didn’t win any friends for them. I’ve seen the ridiculous, totally un-credible, fantasy-land classes that they have approved for CE credit. I’ve seen the failed plan to turn into a membership organization, which cost them several years of being banished from AMTA conventions.

I’ve also seen the failed attempt at an “Advanced Certification,” and the morphing of that into “Board Certification.” The NCBTMB website states that those who are currently Nationally Certified must transition to Board Certification by their next renewal. Unfortunately, I have heard this past week from two prominent massage therapists, both of whom had let their national certification expire 6-7 years ago, that they received invitations to be grandfathered in on the new Board Certification. They declined for ethical reasons. Personally, that makes me feel as if my own certification is about as valuable as a used dinner napkin.

I’ve seen their attempts to present themselves to massage schools and certificants as if they are some sort of regulatory organization by using language that insinuated that. I’ve seen their attempts to replace lost exam income by gouging the hell out of CE providers. It was only when they were faced with a mass walk-out of prominent providers, who said they would give it up, rather than go along with the plan, that they had to back up and punt.

I’ve seen times when people could not get a phone call or e-mail to the organization answered, and times when it took months for certificates and approvals to arrive, if they arrived at all. I’ve seen an example, just yesterday as a matter of fact, of them blocking people, including me, from posting on their FB page because they had the nerve to complain—and that was after the new Chair encouraged people on my own FB page to make their comments there. I’ve seen well-respected, seasoned colleagues who are experts in massage organizations and government relations offer to help them and give them advice about how to pull themselves out of some of the messes they’ve made, and I’ve seen that help refused or ignored time and time again. I’ve seen their adamant refusals to own up to their mistakes. My distress with them is not new. It’s just been festering for a long time.

I think the NCBTMB has reached the tipping point. Some would even say they are long past it. I have, in the past, given them hell about some things, and I’ve also come to their defense many times, including some when they probably didn’t deserve it. I have stated many times that I wanted to see them survive and thrive, and I sincerely meant that.

I am sad to say I am no longer holding out that hope. I am sad to say that I think they have outlived their usefulness. I am sad to say that I think their credibility has been shot beyond repair. I am sad to say that although there are staff and volunteers there that I personally know and like, and believe have the best of intentions, things have gone too far. They’ve had years to turn this ship around, and it hasn’t happened.

Therefore, I am calling on AMTA, ABMP, AFMTE, and FSMTB to immediately pull out all the stops and use all their available resources to help get the NCBTMB out of all statutes and administrative rules, as it relates to approval of their exams and use of their Approved CE Provider program. There are only a handful of states that approve their own CE, and if the NCBTMB were to suddenly go out of business, confusion is going to reign in those states that still have the NCBTMB exams and CE provider requirements written into the law.

Removing them from all statutory language in the regulated states doesn’t necessarily mean the NCBTMB will go away. They may continue to limp along for a few more years. They may someday come to their senses and create some valid specialty certifications, and reestablish themselves as a viable entity, but at this point in time, I doubt if they have the financial resources to do so. They’ve wasted a whole lot of money on their previous missteps.

Lest anyone get the idea that I am happy about making this request of our other organizations, let me assure you, I am not. I am sad to see that one of our national organizations has fallen this far. It’s time for positive action, and since they’re obviously not going to take it, the other organizations are going to have to seize the moment. I would suggest orchestrating a hostile takeover, but one of my colleagues who knows much more about regulation than I do informs me that’s impossible due to their structure, so this is the next best thing.

The FSMTB is able to offer government relations support to their member states, and AMTA and ABMP can afford the lobbyists. As a young organization, they don’t have enough resources yet, but with financial aid from the other organizations, AFMTE could be a great alternative approval body for CE. COMTA could possibly step into that role as well, but again, they don’t have the financial resources that the other organizations have. I call on all of them to set it in motion immediately to get the NCBTMB out of all statutes. We all know how slow the government moves so it won’t happen overnight, but I believe it has to happen. The FSMTB has been working on a Model Practice Act, so the time is ripe.

I also suggest that anyone who is Certified, as I have been since 2000, examine what that really means to you. Personally, I will not be renewing mine. There was a time when I was proud to say I was Nationally Certified. That time has now come and gone.

Report from the AMTA National Convention

I arrived in Ft. Worth on Wednesday in time to attend the House of Delegates preliminary meeting, which was quite exciting. I was only an alternate this year so I did not get to participate in several spirited debates, one concerning the ACA, and another concerning delegates who arrive late for the meeting (they don’t get seated–something I am in total agreement with.) I spent the evening at the Lippincott author’s dinner, something I always look forward to. Authors and educators Ralph Stephens, Ruth Werner and her husband Curt, Pat Archer, Celia Bucci, Joe Muscolino, Diana Thompson, LWW Publisher Angus McDonald, Acquisitions Editor Jonathon Joyce, my wonderful editor Linda Francis were all present, and I’m probably forgetting someone! We dined at Reata, which served great Tex-Mex food, and the service was top notch.

Thursday morning, the opening ceremony was great. Doc Hendley was the keynote speaker. He is the founder of Wine to Water, and a fellow North Carolinian. He received a standing ovation and had some people in tears, including me. His life’s work is providing clean water to people all over the world who do without it, and it really makes you realize how much we all take for granted. President Winona Bontrager recognized long-standing members and handed out awards, including giving the President’s Award to Rick Rosen, co-owner of the Body Therapy Institute in Siler City, NC, and recognizing him for 30 years of service. Rick has contributed so much to this profession, I’ve actually written a previous blog about him. Congratulations to him for well-deserved recognition.

I had another chance to catch up with Joe Muscolino on Thursday when we shared a table at Starbucks. He is such a smart man who has been around this business for a long time. I’m hoping to attend his dissection class one of these days. Back to the House of Delegates on Thursday evening, where three position statements were considered.

Thursday night, the North Carolina Chapter went out to dinner together. Great to catch up with everybody. I walked back to the hotel with Joel Tull and we got slightly lost…which was okay…we took a good walk! Joel is a sweetheart and a gentleman, and he told me an Irish joke, which I won’t repeat here, but it was great to visit with him.

Friday I visited the Massamio booth for my appointment with Michael Reynolds. His task was to whip me into shape at using HootSuite, and he gave me some great advice. He and Allissa Haines were busy, busy, busy educating people about social media marketing. I hate I didn’t have more time to visit with both of them. That was the case with a lot of folks that I loved to see but just didn’t get to hang out with much.

Bruce Baltz saved me from a total meltdown by giving me a foot massage at the Bon Vital booth….shame on me for wearing a pair of flats all week, my feet were killing me! Note to self, don’t do that again!

On Friday I attended a presentation on the parasympathetic nervous system by Dr. Sandra Smith, Dr. Drew Riffe and Dr. Christopher Moyer. This was one of the research track classes and I was thrilled to see the room packed. The same thing happened on Saturday when Dr. Moyer taught a class on the effects of massage therapy on anxiety and depression. He’s a great teacher, and again, it was so wonderful to see the room filled with people who are interested in learning about and advancing massage therapy research.

Friday night I attended the reception for the Massage Therapy Foundation. I’m still trying to take it all in. AMTA’s annual donation to the MTF was $450,000. The Florida Chapter of AMTA made a $20,000 donation. The MA Chapter made a $10,000 donation. Massage Envy made a $10,000 donation. Then Massage Envy VP CG Funk made the offer that she would match up to $500 if someone passed the hat. Richard Wedegartner passed his cowboy hat around and in ten minutes collected over $800. He said next year he would wear a bigger hat. Biotone made a $15,000 donation, and Massage Warehouse made a $10,000 donation. Performance Health made a $2500 donation in honor of Diana Thompson, whom they honored for her many efforts on behalf on the profession. Outgoing President Ruth Werner also honored Diana, and I could not think of a more deserving person. I was really blown away by the generosity and dedication to massage therapy research that was on display. Thank you to every donor, whether your donation is big or small, it all helps!

Friday after the reception I spent some time catching up with Ariana Vincent. Ariana is dynamite in a small package! We actually roomed together Friday night and had a great chat.

After my class on Saturday I made a quick visit through the exhibit hall before heading to the airport. I missed the closing panel presentation on the ACA. According to Ariana, who took notes, the four panelists spoke knowledgeably about the health and legal ramifications. Therapists are encouraged to investigate thoroughly before jumping into the insurance waters, and reminded that you must be HIPAA compliant in order to accept insurance. The therapists in unregulated states will not be allowed to participate in insurance filing under the ACA. I’m sure there’s more but that’s the gist of it.

All in all, I had a great time. I always do! There is just something awesome about being with a couple of thousand people who do what you do! The Texas Chapter did a great job as hosts and we all appreciate it. Already looking forward to next year in Denver!

Report from the AFMTE 2013 Annual Meeting

I just returned from attending the fourth annual meeting of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, held this year in St. Charles, MO. I’m a founding member of this organization, and once again, it was a fabulous event. I would have to say that this was the best one in the history of the organization. Kudos to Nancy Dail and Cherie Sohnen-Moe, who spent the last year organizing the event, along with the other board members–all volunteers, I might add. This is the kind of thing that can’t be pulled off by just one person. Many people worked behind the scenes to make it happen.

I arrived on Wednesday night in time to visit with Ryan Hoyme (aka the MassageNerd), Greg Hurd, Allissa Haines, and Ralph Stephens. The Embassy Suites puts on a heck of a nice free happy hour, as well as a nice breakfast, and their staff was very efficient and attentive to our group. The meeting kicked off Thursday morning, and the next two days were filled with informative keynote speakers, great classes for educators, and plenty of visiting with friends, old and new.

During the annual reports, President Pete Whitridge reported that the organization now has over 300 members. About half were in attendance, and the rest missed out on a great time! Treasurer Sue Bibik reported that the organization is debt-free, which is quite an accomplishment since the Alliance is less than five years old.

Whitney Lowe’s keynote, Developing the 21st Century Teacher, really hit the nail on the head with the need to utilize technology and advance our own skills as educators. He is always a dynamic speaker. I had a visit with Jan Schwartz, who along with Whitney is one of the educators behind Education Training Solutions. Thursday evening, I missed the opening reception in order to go speak to Bloom, a networking group of massage therapists in St. Louis. The founder, Sara Newberry, took me out to a fabulous dinner at a rustic Mexican restaurant before the meeting, which was attended by about a dozen MTs. I really enjoyed my time with them.

Friday morning, Dr. Janet Kahn presented Massage in the Age of Healthcare Transformation: Our Opportunities and Responsibilities. Kahn has the inside track on the Affordable Care Act and how that stands to affect integrative health practitioners. After Kahn’s presentation, I ran into AMTA President Winona Bontrager, who assured me that AMTA was indeed going to take some action to support massage therapists as participants in the ACA, a move that she had just a few moments to explain during a panel presentation from the leadership of all 7 national massage organizations. She stated that they would be unveiling that very soon. It was very gratifying to me to see Karen Armstrong, VP of the FSMTB,  Sue Toscano, President of the NCBTMB, Anne Williams, Director of Education for ABMP, Winona Bontrager, President of AMTA, Ruth Werner, President of the Massage Therapy Foundation, and Kate Zulaski, Executive Director of COMTA, on the dais together. Later that afternoon, Kate and Dr. Tony Mirando of NACCAS, presented together on Coming to Agreement on Core Curriculum–another warm and fuzzy moment since these two organizations are competitors. It was a great presentation.

Friday was also the day for memorial tributes to our colleagues who have departed this life in the past year. One of the highlights of my trip was the tribute to Bob King, who just passed a couple of weeks ago. I joined David Lauterstein, one of the Educators of the Year and a primo guitarist, and Cherie Sohnen-Moe onstage to offer Bob a little musical tribute. Bob was a fan of “Blind Al” Wilson of Canned Heat, so I played a little harp and Cherie and I provided the backup vocals while David played and sang Canned Heat’s song, “On the Road Again.” I hope someone got a video of that!

Friday night, I attended the ELAP meeting facilitated by Anne Williams of ABMP and Cynthia Ribeiro, Immediate Past President of AMTA. Both of these ladies have a passion for education, and I acknowledge that wholeheartedly even though I have had plenty of concerns about the ELAP. About 20 or so of us piled into the room to hear about the ELAP and to get our questions answered. I was amused to see that their Power Point presentation referred to “angry bloggers,” and I assume that meant me and Sandy Fritz…we’ve both stirred the pot on that front, but in the end, I hope that some good information comes out of this. It was quite momentous in any case to hear that AMTA and ABMP, the two largest competing organizations in massage therapy, have shared some of their top-secret data with each other in the interest of the common good in order to facilitate this project.

Saturday, I attended the NCB CE Provider Update presented by Sue Toscano and Donna Sarvello of the NCBTMB. Their presentation was peppered with questions from the crowd regarding the new Board Certification and the (yet-again) revised version of the Approved Provider CE program. which they stated would be rolled out on November 1. I seized the opportunity to give them an earful about all the pseudo-science classes they have approved for CE, and also to inquire about how many people have earned the new Board Certification. The answer was over 1200, and that almost all of those have been grandfathered in from the ranks of those who were already Nationally Certified and met the new criteria. I gathered that it has been a very small number that have actually taken the new Board Certification exam. Toscano’s explanation was that due to the fact that the new exam just rolled out in January, and requires that people have 250 hours of work experience within six months (among other things), that newer graduates are just now starting to take it.

We also had our annual Author’s meet and greet organized by the lovely Nancy Dail–there were more than 20 textbook authors present.

Other highlights for me were having my blog and Sandy Fritz’s blog recognized for driving a lot of traffic to the AFMTE website, finally meeting longtime FB friend Emmanuel Bistas, and spending a few moments with Sandy Fritz, Bob Jantz, Gabriela Sonam, Benjamin McDonald, Sally Hacking, Allissa Haines and Greg Hurd, Stephanie and Brian Beck, and many more. Saturday morning I had breakfast with educator and author Elaine Stillerman, whom I had never met, and she is a ball of energy in spite of her recent back surgery. My plane was delayed both coming and going, and I visited with Linda Beach while we were waiting an inordinate amount of time to depart–actually got on the plane and then had to get back off an hour later. I had a little nap in the St Louis airport and woke up to find I was about to fall over on Dr. Janet Kahn–I hope I wasn’t snoring and drooling–and chatted with her for about an hour.

Every annual meeting of the AFMTE seems to get better and better. I urge all educators to join this organization and to PARTICIPATE. They have recently started a Human Energy Bank, so that those people who may not have time to take on a full-time volunteer position can volunteer to handle a specific task. There are many other benefits to belonging, which are detailed on the AFMTE website. As a founding member, I feel like I have definitely gotten my money’s worth every year. We are also looking for industry partners to join us. This is THE organization for schools, school educators, and CE providers. We’re doing more than just holding a meeting. The Alliance provides a comprehensive range of services to this community, and represents their interests in all domains. This advocacy comes into play in dealing with regulatory issues, accreditation, standard-setting initiatives such as the Alliance’s National Teacher Education Standards Project, as well as ongoing efforts to get massage therapy better recognized by and integrated into the health care delivery system. As Jan Schwartz said during one of our previous annual meetings, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Janet Kahn, during her presentation, said “you’re in the door, or in the dust.” Don’t be left out.

AMTA: Supporting Massage Therapists for the Affordable Care Act (or Not?)

The Affordable Care Act goes into effect on January 1, 2014. This stands to have a major impact on the ability of massage therapists to be reimbursed by insurance. The 1300+ page document includes language prohibiting discrimination against licensed integrative health care practitioners.

Diana Thompson, well-known educator, author, long-time AMTA member and past president of the Massage Therapy Foundation, recently shared with me a letter she sent to the BOD of AMTA, expressing her concerns that the organization is not supporting the movement of massage therapy into the mainstream as a health care choice. In the letter, Thompson went so far as to call out AMTA for not operating according to their own bylaws, which include the mandates that the organization is, among other things, to

(D.) Promote legislation that supports and upholds, and oppose legislation that harms
and damages, the massage profession;

(E.) Protect and preserve the rights of its members;

(H.) To advocate the rights and interests of persons seeking massage therapy as
health care;

Thompson was moved to write the letter to the BOD after a recent meeting of representatives of CAM professions, held at Bastyr University in Seattle. After the meeting, the purpose of which was to discuss the ACA, Cynthia Price, PhD, LMP, who attended on behalf of the Academic Consortium for Complimentary and Alternative Health Care stated in her report to Executive Director John Weeks:

I was very pleased to attend the Region X/ACA meeting on Monday held at Bastyr this week.  It was a very informative meeting and a nice first step to bring clinicians from different CAM and Medical disciplines into one room together who all want to be better informed and care deeply about this topic.   Deborah Senn did an excellent introductory presentation on the ACA and the current concerns regarding the language that may put CAM providers at risk for inclusion/coverage.  With the exception of the massage representative from the AMTA, all the clinical speakers were excellent and very supportive of the ACA and interested in doing everything possible to support coverage by practitioners within their discipline.  These clinicians expressed similar concerns regarding the ACA and how it may or may not affect CAM services.  There were also clinical examples provided about how the ACA may positively impact certain disciplines, particularly NDs who provide primary care… On a side note, I am very concerned about the position of the AMTA…”

Winona Bontrager, President of the Board of AMTA, responded with a letter to Thompson that stated:

“We have spoken with some other people who attended the recent HHS meeting.  Some of those individuals were there representing other groups and of course our chapter members, and none of them came away from that meeting with the understandings you put forward.  We have no idea how Cynthia Price arrived at the statement she has made to you.”

Thompson also stated in her letter to the BOD that Price had specifically asked that Chris Studebaker, AMTA’s Director of Government and Industry Relations and the person who was representing AMTA at the invitation-only meeting, not be invited to attend future meetings, and that others besides AMTA should be invited to better ensure accurate and professional representation of the interests of massage therapists.

These are serious accusations. AMTA’s response is that Studebaker’s statements at the meeting were conveying the results of AMTA’s last member survey, which revealed that about 50% of the membership has no interest in third-party reimbursement. Bontrager, speaking on behalf of the BOD, stated that Studebaker is being unfairly blamed for things he did not say. Thompson states that she stands by her accusations.

Thompson also stated that she spoke to AMTA leaders about the need for support and action regarding the ACA on at least a couple of other occasions, notably at the last AMTA National Convention in Raleigh, NC and again at the IMTRC held in Boston earlier this year, and that both times was given “wait and see” and “we’re not ready” responses by the leadership.

This entire brouhaha brings to light several issues and bigger questions. First, lest there be any confusion here, even if the ACA results in every massage therapist in the country being eligible for third-party reimbursement, no one is going to be forced to accept insurance. Anyone who wants to keep operating a cash-only practice will be able to do so.

Second, if 50% of AMTA’s membership doesn’t want to participate with insurance clients, that means there is also 50% that does. Since the 50% who don’t want to are not going to be forced to participate, what about representation for the half of the members who do want to?

Third, I must agree with Thompson that this is not the time to “wait and see.” This is the time to be proactive. I will point out the position statements approved by this organization that clearly demonstrate the health benefits of massage therapy! If we can make that more available to the public who have insurance that would pay for it, shouldn’t we be doing that?

Diana Thompson is a long-standing and dedicated member of AMTA. She was instrumental in gaining the right for massage therapists to file insurance in the state of Washington, where 90% of AMTA members do bill insurance. I don’t believe she is on a witch-hunt at AMTA. I believe it came from genuine concern that a major voice that should be speaking out for us is not doing so. Her letter cited the research from AMTA’s own 2009 consumer survey that showed that 97% of massage recipients believe that massage should be considered as health care.

The field of massage therapy has been experiencing growing pains for quite some time. There are concerted and combined efforts going on right now to raise the quality of education, to raise the quality of teaching and education, and to raise the image of massage in the eyes of the public. AMTA has made many efforts in the past on behalf of the membership, and I urge them not to drop the ball this time.

ELAP First Draft and Call for Comments Released

The first draft of the ELAP (Entry-Level Analysis Project) has finally been released. It’s been more than a year since I first blogged about it.

This research project proposal was introduced by ABMP and has come full circle from the first statements put out about it, which put me out quite a bit. The initial proposal stated: There is no step in this proposal to obtain input from the broader massage profession or from other health-care or bodywork organizations during this project. The reason is simple—the work group is simply performing a work task in writing learning outcomes and objectives for job tasks defined by surveys already conducted by FSMTB and NCBTMB. It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught. The work group would be responding to what therapists report they do, on a day-to-day basis, in their massage-related environments as part of their jobs.

They had to back up and punt on that. The ELAP website now contains the following statements clarifying the purpose and scope of the project:

The Entry-Level Analysis Project (ELAP) is a research project that defines the minimum number of training hours necessary to acquire knowledge and skills essential for safe and competent practice as an entry-level massage therapist. The project was initiated through conversations between the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, the Massage Therapy Foundation, and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.

ELAP aims to obtain and use research data and analysis of findings from other massage profession projects to inform the creation of an entry-level curriculum map. The map will define the essential elements of an entry-level curriculum necessary for safe and competent practice in a massage career, as well as the number of hours deemed necessary to teach these learning objectives and outcomes. The project outputs will be used to inform the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) Model Practice Act designed to promote interstate portability of credentials in the massage profession. The recommendations of the ELAP project will be available to the massage profession as a resource to enhance consistency of entry-level curricula in massage and bodywork training programs.

The ELAP website now contains five webinars explaining the various facets of the project, and numerous surveys to complete. You do not have to complete all of them; the option is to pick and choose those areas that interest you the most.

I urge everyone to give feedback. It happens too often in our field that there is either no opportunity to give feedback, or the opportunity is presented and ignored….the MTBOK (Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge) was a prime example of that. Only a smattering of people responded to that, and then it came under all kinds of criticism when it was released. If you don’t take the opportunity to express your opinion, then don’t gripe when it comes out and you don’t like it. Visit the website and take advantage of your opportunity to participate.

An Interview with Bill Brown, New Executive Director of AMTA

Bill Brown became the new Executive Director of the American Massage Therapy Association on May 17, following the retirement of former ED Shelly Johnson.

Brown has been with the American Massage Therapy Association for 8 years, the past two and a half as Deputy Director. He has a degree in Political Studies from the University of IL and is bringing a lot of experience to the table in association management, and industry and government relations. Prior to joining AMTA as the Director of Industry and Government Relations, he worked in industry relations for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, as the Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for the International Interior Design Association, and as the Director of State Government Affairs in the IL Office of Banks and Real Estate. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his background, philosophy, and how he sees the organization moving into the future.

1. Tell our audience something about your background, like where you were born and raised, where you went to college…inquiring minds want to know!

 I think this is actually the hardest question, forcing me to talk about myself.  So here it goes.  I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania and moved to the Chicagoland area when I was just a youngster and grew up in Illinois.  My parents were small business owners and worked in a small printing company.  I moved to Springfield, Illinois when I started my career working in state government.  I worked in the legislature, as a regulator and for local government before taking a short break to run my family’s printing company for a couple of years while my father had some health issues.  After we sold the company allowing my father to retire I went into association management.  I began working in government relations setting up new programs for two associations.  When I came to AMTA I really wanted to find a place to grow and be able to utilize my skills — and found much more.  AMTA has provided a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere that I hope everyone can experience some day.

2. When you were job-seeking, what was it about AMTA that jumped out at you that initially made you want to come to work for the organization?

AMTA has a good reputation and organizational stability.  That isn’t always true for associations.  I also saw an opportunity for long term growth with the association, and the potential of having a positive impact.

3. When you earned your degree in political science, were you thinking of getting into politics on a broader scale such as running for public office or working for the government? Or do you think that might be in your path in the future?

I’ve always wanted to make a difference in what I do.  Public policy is important to me, but I really see myself able to make a difference working in an association.

4. If you had to describe AMTA in one word, what would it be, and why?

Not to dodge your question completely, but I want to give you three words – massage therapy profession.  AMTA’s board, its other volunteers and our staff take our mission seriously. We are about serving our members (massage therapists, students, schools and educators) and advancing the profession.  So, AMTA wants to improve opportunities for all massage therapists in the profession.  We see AMTA as working to represent and advance the entire profession, whether it is working with our members, the public, other healthcare providers or employers.

5. As you’re settling into your new position as Executive Director, do you have any immediate pet projects you’d like to implement?

My primary responsibility is to implement the decisions of our board of Directors.  Our board has many ideas to serve our members and advance the profession.  I direct our staff to execute them to the best of our abilities.  That means providing excellent customer service and promoting a sense of inclusion.

6. What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges facing massage therapists today?

Our members tell us what is most challenging to them.  A challenge we hear most often is trying to make a good living as a massage therapist in a tough economy.  The right to practice and public acceptance of the real value of massage therapy and being treated as professionals are also important challenges today.

7. What do you think AMTA is doing to help therapists meet those challenges?

AMTA and our Board of Directors are especially focused on trying to bring new clients to our members.  That’s why we began our multi-year commitment last year to our Consumer Awareness Program.  We are proactively approaching national and local media and the health care community every day to educate them about the benefits of massage therapy for health and the importance of finding a qualified massage therapist. We encourage consumers to look for an AMTA member for their next massage.

We provide a wealth of continuing education, so massage therapists can advance and grow professionally.  Many of our continuing education classes are offered free to our members.  We have an online Job Bank and new student scholarship program that will be both expanding this year.  And, our chapters provide advantages for massage therapists they can’t find anywhere else – networking, support, continuing education, a chance to impact the direction of the association, and a very successful mentoring program. All of these address the challenges in the profession and for massage therapists to be successful.

8. AMTA has been participating in the Leadership Summits with representatives from the other professional organizations since they began. What, if any, value do you think has been the outcome of those meetings?

First and foremost are the collaboration and fostering of relationships and camaraderie among the various massage therapy organizations.  This is vital if we want to make the profession better and more beneficial for everyone.  We each have a better understanding of our respective roles in the approaches to the profession.  And, of course, the Entry Level Analysis Project (ELAP) is a very positive outgrowth of these meetings. The closer we can work together the stronger the profession becomes.

9. As one who is very experienced in government relations, do you plan for AMTA to be more proactive in the individual states on that front, such as lobbying against detrimental legislation?

We will be continuing our board-approved approach to government relations.  There is a lot to do there.  That means supporting our chapters’ work, and understanding the unique characteristics and needs of each state.  We will continue to be proactive on licensing, because our goal is to have fair and consistent licensing in all states that can lead to future portability of massage therapy practice. 

10. Some massage therapists avoid joining any organizations because the perception is that they are all about cliques and politics. What would you say to those people to change their mind and persuade them to join AMTA?

 I believe they will like it.  AMTA is about our members.  We listen to all our members and develop products, programs and services that benefit all of them.  If someone is unsure about joining AMTA, I want them to come check us out.  There are many ways to participate in AMTA and to engage with others in the profession.  Do you want to mentor new massage therapists or do you need a mentor?  Look at AMTA.  Do you want to network with massage therapists and learn from them?  Look at AMTA.  Do you want to see your association actively promoting its members to the public and trying to get you new opportunities for new clients?  Look at AMTA. I believe that if a massage therapist experiences AMTA they will join.

11. Is there anything else you’d like to say to all the massage therapists out there?

Give us a try and I believe you will want to be a part of the family.  I realize there are choices out there but I truly believe in AMTA and our members, and that we are the right choice for massage therapists.I feel the same way about massage therapy.  We want more people to experience massage therapy for themselves because when people that try it, they see the value and what it can do for their health and overall wellness and come back for more.  

 

A Change for the Better at the Massage Therapy Foundation and AMTA

This past week the Massage Therapy Foundation announced that Gini S. Ohlson will become the new Executive Director of the organization, effective July 1. Ohlson has been the AMTA’s staff director for the MTF since 1998.

This is part of the paradigm shift between the two organizations, and I think it’s a good one. AMTA was the founder of the Massage Therapy Foundation back in 1990, and the Executive Director of AMTA has also always acted as the Executive Director of the Foundation. I’ve always wondered how well that worked out, since both organizations carry a lot of responsibility and it would seem to me to be a full-time job to fill either position. Both organizations have come to the same conclusion and have mutually agreed that it is time for the MTF to function more independently.

The Foundation will continue to be housed in AMTA’s offices in Evanston, IL, and the AMTA will continue to support the MTF, albeit in a different way from in the past. AMTA has traditionally paid the staff salaries for the Foundation staff. Under the new agreement, AMTA will continue to contribute to the finances of the MTF, but they will be paying their own staff salaries. AMTA has also committed to donating $50K per year earmarked specifically for massage therapy research.

AMTA’s new Executive Director, former Deputy Director Bill Brown, will be taking over when current ED Shelly Johnson steps down on May 17. I spoke with both of the at the International Massage Therapy Research Conference last weekend. I had previously asked Brown to consent to an interview for my blog when he takes over, and couldn’t resist jerking his chain a little bit by telling him I was going to have Johnson do a guest blog first entitled “Final Instructions for Bill.” Both have years of service to AMTA. I wish Johnson the best in her retirement and look forward to seeing what Brown will do as leader of the organization. AMTA and the MTF will continue to work together for the good of the profession, I have no doubts.

My attendance at the International Massage Therapy Research Conference last week just reaffirmed for me how important it is to support the Massage Therapy Foundation. I urge every massage therapist to support the Foundation in whatever way you can. If each therapist donated the cost of one massage per year to the MTF, that would be a huge amount of money. Just do it! You can donate here.

Report from the International Massage Therapy Research Conference

This past week I was blessed to attend the International Massage Therapy Research Conference. This event is only held every three years and it was my first time attending. It was held at the Seaport in Boston, a beautiful hotel right on the harbor and right across the street from the World Trade Center, in a great part of town. We enjoyed excellent service from the staff there, so kudos to them.

I arrived on Wednesday in time to view the DVD showing of the International Fascia Research Conference from Vancouver. The presentations from that conference were fascinating, and that event will be the next thing on my wish list. Nothing is better at a movie than popcorn and Milk Duds, which were provided…some of the science presented was above my head, but hey–I went there to learn!

The Conference officially kicked off on Thursday morning with Massage Therapy Foundation President Ruth Werner making some opening remarks, followed by a beautiful blessing from three Native American ladies who were present. Dr. Jeanette Ezzo was the opening keynote speaker. Her topic was “Mechanisms and Beyond: What is Needed to Prove the Effectiveness of Massage?” I must confess I was taken aback at one of her early comments regarding acupuncture. She stated that although there was no scientific proof the meridians exist, that “the efficacy of it gets us off the hook.” I was rather surprised to hear that at a research conference where the focus was on scientific evidence. There was also a poster display, including one entitled “Is There a Place for Energy Work for Children Living With Autism?” It’s just my personal opinion that it was out of place there. That was my only complaint about the entire experience.

On Thursday I also attended a presentation on “Massage Therapy for Specific Conditions,” where four different researchers presented their studies on tension headaches, osteoarthritis in the knee, vascular function, and chronic pain in opiate-addicted patients.

Thursday afternoon I attended the newcomer’s luncheon, where Jerrilyn Cambron, Ruth Werner, and Allissa Haines all gave short talks to those in attendance. Thursday night I attended the welcome reception and met up with a lot of friends.

Friday morning I met with my representatives from Lippincott Williams and Wilkins and then listened to the keynote speech from Leslie Corn, “Somatic Emphathy: Restoring Community Health With Massage,” followed by a panel presentation on “Massage in the Community; Informing Public Health.” That afternoon. I attended a workshop in “Best Practices Guidelines: Building the Framework,” presented by Michael Hamm, Keith Eric Grant, and John Balletto–all previously known to me as Facebook friends–so I was glad to meet them all in person and participate in their class.

Saturday I attended Dr. Janet Kahn’s keynote speech, “Massage in 21st Century Healthcare: Let’s Seize the Moment.” Dr. Kahn’s presentation was probably the most informative and eye-opening moment for me, personally, about the state of health care in general in the US. Let’s just say it is not a pretty picture! As Dr. Kahn pointed out, there is a trend among our politicians to act as if the US has the best health care in the world, but the statistics really show the contrary.

That was followed with a panel presentation on “Next Steps in Massage Therapy Research” moderated by Bodhi Haraldsson, Research Department Director at the Massage Therapist’s Association of British Columbia. I’m telling you now, I could nearly cry when I see how much is done in Canada to advance massage therapy research compared to what is done here. We look disgraceful in comparison. Research literacy is required of every student in every school. $100 of each therapist’s registration fee is used to fund massage therapy research.

Saturday afternoon’s final event was a workshop, “Massage Therapy Research Agenda Planning,” where the approximately 250 attendees split into small groups to brainstorm recommendations for future massage therapy research.

During the whole event I got to visit with so many people, both longtime friends and people I  had only previously met through social media. I shared breakfast one morning with Keith Eric Grant, who was blogging about massage long before I started. I had lunch one day with Lisa Mertz from New York, whom I had previously met in person at the World Massage Festival. Saturday night I had dinner with Ben McDonald and Cliff Martin, owners of Massamio, that I had previously met at another conference.

All in all, it was just a wonderful event. My only regret is that I couldn’t attend every single presentation; some of them overlapped and there was just no way to be in two places at once. Thanks must be given to AMTA as the major sponsor of this event. Other sponsors included Books of Discovery, ABMP, the MA Chapter of AMTA, Anatomy Trains, and Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. The staff of the Massage Therapy Foundation and numerous volunteers kept things running smoothly. A round of applause to them all.

That being said, I feel compelled to go on a rant before I close out this blog. If you are an educator and/or a school owner, you owe it to your students to see to it that they are research literate. I believe there is a serious lack of any knowledge of research literacy in this profession. I am not asking schools to turn out researchers…I AM asking that the basics of research literacy are included in your curriculum, so that your students at least know the difference in what is valid research and what is website hype, one of the numerous myths of massage, or claptrap from a magazine. There is just no excuse for not doing it.

This event only takes place every three years, and the location of the next one has not yet been decided. I don’t care if it’s held on the moon; I will plan to be there.

MOCC-ERY Redux

I have received the following from the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. I personally think they are far off the mark on what they intend to do with continuing education, and with their refusal to consider any joint effort with the NCBTMB to organize and streamline the approval process for the good of all concerned. This is their MOCC-ERY plan redux, and it’s giving me a bad case of acid reflux. The first time this plan rolled around, the national office of AMTA responded by shooting 20 holes into it. Those holes are still there, and it is my fond hope that AMTA will reiterate its position.

This is nothing more than another ill-conceived ploy to put the NCBTMB out of business by taking CE out of their hands, making only what THEY want to be required–and furthermore, to require you to get it from them. To add insult to injury, the FSMTB proposes that THEY will choose the experts who will create the courses that YOU will be required to take from them on their website and occasional live classes. CE Providers might as well kiss your income goodbye. Give me a break. If this isn’t a naked power grab, I have never seen one. Here is the communication:

February 27, 2013
 
Dear Colleagues:
 
A White Paper circulating in professional and social media circles proposes the creation of a new organization to approve continuing education providers. FSMTB has not indicated support for such a move and would like to correct certain assumptions pertaining directly to the FSMTB that are made in the paper.
 
The most important reason for regulating the massage and bodywork profession is to ensure public protection and consumer confidence without unduly restricting the ability of licensed, professional therapists to make a living. To better address needs in the area of license renewal, the FSMTB was directed by a vote of its members (State boards and agencies that regulate massage and bodywork therapy) to develop and deliver a solution.
 
To do this, FSMTB looked at research and listened to experts, including consumers, educators, and the therapists themselves. Our recommendation was published in October 2012 in a paper called “Standardized Licensure Renewal Recommendation for Continuing Professional Competence“.  
   
Standardized Licensure Renewal Recommendation
Here’s what we believe is fair and reasonable to ensure competent licensed professionals and protection for the public they serve.
 
Licensed massage and bodywork therapists will be required to complete six (6) hours of license renewal requirements annually. At least three (3) of the six hours must meet the State-sponsored Ethics and Professional Practice course requirements that specifically address content pertaining to public safety. The remaining three (3) hours could be exchanged for certain Professional Development Activities, including but not limited to meeting accredited certification standards, community service, and research.
 
We further believe that it is preferable for all six hours of the license renewal requirements to be in the Ethics and Professional Practice areas, thus eliminating the need for therapists to engage in other activities or classes in order to renew their license. The rationale for limiting the licensing renewal requirements to the Ethics and Professional Practice areas is to ensure that therapists have standardized, current knowledge necessary for safe and competent practice. Additional activities and classes, though beneficial and encouraged, should not be required for re-licensure.
 
Recognizing that there will be a transition phase as the profession progresses, we will establish standards for acceptance of other Professional Development Activities for licensure renewal, such as attaining certifications and attending professional conferences. Again, these activities are to be encouraged but are beyond what should be required to maintain a license.
 
Our goal is to create easily accessible online courses each year on the topics that matter to the State boards, not just to address complaints or sub-standard practice, but to focus on issues such as ethical concerns and therapist safety. Our intent is not to compete with agencies already providing certifications or CE, but to ensure adequate attention to our area of emphasis, Ethics and Professional Practice.
 
For those without access to computers we are considering live classes at events where therapists already gather. We will select experts to work with our licensing boards to create the best courses and we encourage your participation.
 
For States that already have CE requirements, the FSMTB will establish Standards to assist States in determining Professional Development Activities that are acceptable during the transition. We are not proposing that we approve CE Providers, Instructors or Courses; instead, we are concentrating on an alternative solution to address the needs of the regulatory community and the therapists.
 
Considering licensure, we must keep in mind that a license does not reflect that a therapist is brilliant, enthusiastic, nice, or possesses a healing gift. Licensure demonstrates that a therapist has met basic professional standards and is entitled to legally practice.
 
Licensing boards:
-work for the public, not the profession.
-are created to regulate the profession, not elevate it.
-cannot require a double standard – education for experienced professionals that is different from that of entry level therapists.
-must provide the public with an avenue to address harm.
-ensure only that a licensed therapist meets standard competency levels to receive or renew a license.
 
In summary, our role and intent is to work with State boards to protect and to serve the public while at the same time offering a simplified, standardized and relevant solution for therapists.

All providers of continuing education need to contact dpersinger@fsmtb.org and jhuffman@fsmtb.org and let them know we do not want this plan shoved down our throats. Furthermore, providers and licensees can send a letter to your own state massage therapy board letting them know that you do not support this plan of the FSMTB to take over the CE business. Does a practitioner who has been in business 25 years really need to repeat the FSMTB-ordained ethics class for every renewal? Do not sit on your hands–send those emails right now and let the leadership of the FSMTB know you are against this plan.