The state of Arkansas has more massage legislation going on than you can shake a stick at. Here’s a quick recap of this legislative bonanza:
AB 145 would dissolve the Arkansas Board of Massage Therapy and transfer duties to the Department of Health, effective Oct. 1, 2015. This has passed both the House and the Senate and been sent to the Governor, and it’s almost a 100% certainty that licensing massage therapists is going to be turned over to the DOH. It’s beyond incredible to me that the current board members apparently did not protest the dissolution of their Board. However, from the mess that they seem to be in, perhaps the Board members felt it’s best to just go along with the change. Unfortunately, in the past few years, the Arkansas Board has apparently been on a downhill slide with their finances.
According to past Board member Susie Byrd, the current board took power in ’09 when Byrd left. At that time, there were 3550 therapists, two people running the board office, and an annual budget of $74,5000. Marilyn Graham was hired as the Executive Director in ’09. As of 2014, 5 years into Graham’s tenure, there are 1990 therapists, four people in the board office, and an annual budget of $248,000. According to Byrd, when she departed from the the Board, the Board had $250,000 in reserves. That $250,000 has been spent, and according to Byrd, Graham has asked for an additional $60,000 twice in the past year. The Dept of Finance and Administration told the board they had to either fire two people or raise fees, and that the legislators would not grant a fee raise. Considering that Arkansas has lost so many licensees, while doubling their staff and moving to bigger, better offices, their spending definitely seems out of control, and it’s no wonder the state feels compelled to do something.
Derick Corbin, a massage therapist in Russelville, Arkansas, has used his social media pages to try and rally the troops to get in touch with their legislators to prevent the dissolving of the Board, but I am almost certain that due to the mismanagement that has been allowed to go on for the past 5 years, it will in fact be dissolved. Corbin initially brought these legislative issues to my attention. He confirms that the present Board has allowed Graham to run the agency unchecked and unmonitored and believes that has caused the insolvency. When he first contacted me about it, I suggested that the Board needed to reach out to the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, who helps guide member Boards in situations like this. Unfortunately, this administration also saw fit to drop their membership in the Federation. Corbin states that the previous Board was comprised of honest, hardworking people. As he truthfully pointed out to me, the burden is on a Board to oversee an Executive Director, and to question it when finances (or any other executive decisions and actions) seem improper. It looks like this Board should have been asking some hard questions long ago, and didn’t, or they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.
I read all the minutes from Board meetings that appear on the website. Donna McGriff, a former Board member who has served three different tenures on the Board, told me that she and Byrd had repeatedly asked the Board to require a review of Board finances in the meeting once per quarter. According to McGriff, that never happened, and there is no mention of it in any meeting minutes.
AR: HB 1729 will require all boards to be subjected to a sunset review every 12 years as of 2017 by a Sunset Review Committee. The Committee will also review board finances. I’d be very interested to see a detailed accounting of the past five years myself.
AR: HB 1589 would have exempted Bowen Therapy/Technique practitioners from licensure requirements for massage therapists. This bill was defeated yesterday and is just waiting on the Governor’s signature.
AR: SB 546 eliminates a former requirement of a general education development and changes the requirement to a high school diploma or high school equivalency diploma approved by the Department of Career Education and is just waiting on the Governor’s signature.
AR: HB 1562 changes the requirements for CE hours for instructors to 250 CE hours, requiring the 125 hours for a master massage therapist license (only 18 are allowed to be taken online); Master Massage Therapist licensure requires 125 CE hours (with no more than 10% online); adds human trafficking, sexual misconduct, and lewd behavior to reasons for license denial and revocation; provides exemption from licensing for cosmetologists and Bowen Therapy practitioners (the Bowen exemption was defeated yesterday on a separate bill), if they are certified by a professional organization or credentialing agency; adds new sanitation requirements; requires massage schools to maintain board licensing examination pass/fail rates and includes the provision and that if a school has a pass rate of below 75%, the board can place the school on probation; requires massage therapy clinics and spas to register with the board; provides policies for probation and addresses military active duty considerations, and is just waiting on the Governor’s signature .
According to Byrd, 4 schools were previously given probationary status because of low pass rates, and three of the four school owners went screaming to the legislature that the Board members had a vendetta against them. One of them only had a 50% pass rate–actually up 2% from the 48% they had a few years ago. That’s pitiful, in my estimation, and I can’t imagine spending my money to attend a school with that kind of record. Any school can experience a temporary setback for a number of reasons–incompetent instructors, management changes or upheaval of some sort–but a school consistently having that low a pass rate ought to be out of business altogether, if they can’t get up to snuff within a probationary period. If they can make a case for why they’ve had a short-term lapse in pass rates, that’s one thing, but just being allowed to carry on permanently with that kind of rate is beyond the pale.
I’ve seen it happen time after time that when some detrimental legislation gets passed–many times directly due to the failure of people to contact their legislators to express their concerns and ask them to vote the other way–within a few weeks people will start calling me or asking on social media what to do. I applaud Byrd and Corbin for trying to motivate massage therapists to take action,and applaud those therapists that did take action. I’d like to be proven wrong here, but I fear the Arkansas Board is going down the river. Those of us who have been around for awhile will recall when a previous director, now deceased, almost single-handedly bankrupted the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. Board members–on any board–need to keep in mind that they are charged with running a board in a fiscally and ethically responsible manner, and that includes questioning the decisions of an executive director, and intervening before things deteriorate to the point they have deteriorated here. This Board is one of the oldest massage boards, formed in 1952. To see it lost in this way is a travesty, and one that could have been prevented.