The Financial Health of Our Organizations: NCBTMB

Note: For the past few years I have done a series of reports on the financial status of the non-profit organizations that represent the massage therapy profession. I obtain this information from Guidestar, a financial information clearinghouse for non-profits. The organizations can provide their Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax) to Guidestar, and if they don’t, the IRS does it for them. I will state for the record that I am not an accountant or a financial analyst; I just report what I see (and maybe offer a few opinions). I usually get asked the question every year why I am not reporting on ABMP. Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals is a privately-owned for-profit company, and they are not obligated to release their financial information. Non-profits are on a different filing schedule than the rest of us, and there is variance amongst them in when their fiscal year ends. The deadline for filing is the 15th day of the fifth month after the end of their fiscal year. An organization can also request and receive up to two 90-day extensions, and due to the number who haven’t filed yet for 2011, it appears that some of them have done that.

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork has filed their 2011 Form 990 in a timely manner so I’m going to start with them this year. I’ll be following that up with my report on the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. The financial status of these two organizations are intertwined for one reason: since it’s introduction in 2008, the MBLEx has taken a substantial market share of the entry-level exam market away from the NCBTMB. For many years, the NCBTMB exams were enjoying a monopoly, except for the few states that require their own exam.

In 2008, the first year that the MBLEx was available, the NCBTMB’s revenue from exams was in excess of $6 million. By 2011, that had dropped to $3,380,813. Instead of a monopoly, they had a 47% share of the market. I confess that I was expecting it to be even less, since the Federation has relentlessly encouraged their member states to use the MBLEx exclusively. I think the fact that the NCBTMB has retained as much as they have is proof that plan has not yet come to fruition. The income at the NCBTMB from people recertifying dropped by a little over $5k, and sales of their exam guide were down about $17k. Sales of their mailing list also took about a $20k hit this year.

They are showing a total revenue of $5,357,738 for 2011. From 2010 to 2011, the NCBTMB’s total revenue went down to the tune of $443,312. That’s not exactly a shocking figure in this time of recent recession.

The 2011 return, due to the timing of the NCB’s fiscal year, reports the salary of former CEO Paul Lindamood; although the filing was signed by his replacement Mike Williams. Lindamood’s compensation and benefits amounted to over $257,000. No word on what Mike Williams is doing the job for. Non-profits have to report the breakdown of compensation of officers, directors, trustees, key employees, highest compensated employees, and independent contractors. All together, the NCBTMB paid out over $1.7 million in compensation during 2011. Their other major expense is over $1.3 million in exam administration fees.

The bottom line is what tells the tale for most businesses–for profit or not–and their net revenue after expenses for 2011 is $227,326 which is down over $240,000 from 2010.When you consider that during Paul Lindamood’s reign at the helm, the organization went from being almost $270,000 in the hole in 2009 to having a net income of over $469,000 in 2010, it looks like it’s time to either slash expenses, the way he did, or generate more money.

That’s exactly what the NCBTMB hopes will happen in the coming year(s) on both fronts. They are rolling out the new rules for national certification, as well as the new rules for continuing ed providers, and doing away with organizational approval. The requirement that each individual be approved as a provider in their own right should generate some additional funds. The new rules for becoming nationally certified, in my humble opinion, is initially going to cause a further decrease for them. Since the new rules are jacking up the education requirement from 500 hours to 750, and requiring 250 hours of work experience, that will automatically disqualify people who might have otherwise taken the exam for entry-level licensing. The NESL is still an option in some states, but with the entry-level exam revenue steadily declining for the past four years, and the MBLEx becoming more firmly entrenched with the member states as time goes on, I’d be surprised if they don’t continue to lose ground in that market.

Their expenses could go back down. The application and recertification processes are online, and that’s going to knock a few staff members out of a job. They spent about $40k more in 2011 attending conventions than in 2010. I feel that they should be present at all major massage meetings, so I don’t begrudge that money…conventions are never held at Motel 6 so unless I’m an invited speaker, I feel that one in my own pocketbook. Legal expenses also increased by about $13k this year, but lobbying decreased by almost that same amount. It does cost money to go in and challenge a state that is considering dropping your exam–or appealing to one that has already dropped it to reinstate it.

On a positive note, total assets increased by about $70k, while total liabilities decreased by about $142,000.

All in all, it wasn’t the best year they’ve ever had–and it wasn’t the worst, either. The NCBTMB has had some administrations in years gone by that seemed hellbent on bankrupting the organization. I feel pretty safe in saying that isn’t the case here; they have some dedicated staff and board members that are determined to make it work, and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, their new website is very snappy. You can check it out and all the new changes they are implementing at www.ncbtmb.org

NCBTMB: New Plans for the Future

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork has announced several bold new initiatives for moving the organization ahead. It’s no secret that the NCBTMB has had their ups and downs. The immediate past CEO, Paul Lindamood, had a lot to do with bringing them back from the brink of financial disaster that was caused partially by the MBLEx cutting drastically into their exam income, and partially by a previous administration that seemed hell-bent on bankrupting the organization. In a press release dated March 14, the organization outlined their new directions:

– Beginning in the first quarter of 2013, NCBTMB will end its existing National Certification credential, and will replace it with a new Board Certification credential. This will require passing the new Board Certification exam, which has Eligibility Requirements of 750 hours of education, 250 hours of hands on work experience and passing of a background check. Additional qualifications may be added, based on feedback from the profession. This will elevate the value of “certification” to a true post-graduate credential as opposed to the entry-level status it has held since its inception.

– In the summer of 2012, NCBTMB will launch a new online portal where all interaction with NCBTMB can be accomplished. including applications for all exams, recertification, approved providers, school reviews and payment for all NCBTMB services and products will be accomplished through this new portal. This will streamline their operations and cut down on the amount of time involved for all concerned.

– Beginning in the summer of 2012, NCBTMB’s continuing education approval program will also require courses to be vetted, along with CE providers. Providers will be required to submit their qualifications to teach each course. Previously, once a provider was approved, they could add on courses at will, which has caused some problems with people teaching subjects they are not truly qualified for. There has been some abuse as well concerning inappropriate course content, such as people creating a course just to sell a product they’ve invented. I attended last year’s meeting held by the NCBTMB for the purpose of gathering input and suggestions on how to improve the CE program, and vetting individual courses was at the top of the wish list. It’s good to see them listening and taking suggestions.

– Effective immediately, the current online practice exam is discontinued. In the summer of 2012, NCBTMB will launch a new online education resource offering thousands of questions to help candidates test their knowledge of many specific areas of practice. The old practice exam only had 65 questions, so this is a vast improvement for testing candidates.

– Licensing Exam. The NCETM and NCETMB, currently accepted for licensure in thirty-nine states, will be retained. The exam may now be taken at any time prior to graduation; however, formal notification will be released only upon proof of graduation from a minimum 500-hour massage therapy program. State licensing requirements are dictated by the individual states.  Since most of the existing massage licensing boards in the US have now joined the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, and the official line from that organization is to urge all states to exclusively adopt the MBLEx for licensing, this particular move keeps the waters a little muddy.

Since the creation of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and the exploding popularity of the MBLEx, the NCBTMB has found themselves in a difficult position, and not just financially. For about 15 years or so, the exams from the NCBTMB were the sole path to licensure almost everywhere, except in a few states that had their own exam. In states that had no licensure, National Certification has been used as a credential to set educated and legitimate massage therapists apart from the “massage parlor” workers.

With only a few states left that aren’t regulated, most of which are working towards adopting regulations, the MBLEx will probably be used as the licensing exam if and when it does happen. The MBLEx is an entry-level licensing exam. By the NCBTMB’s own admission, the NESL exam they have used for licensing is the same exam they have used for certification–the only difference being the name of it– that has up to this point been a somewhat confusing state of affairs. The NCBTMB is currently seeking item writers and planning to beef up the new exam, so we’ll see which way that goes. In light of the new requirements for National Certification, I think it would make sense now for them to get out of the entry-level licensing game altogether and let the new credential truly mean an increase in value to those who seek a higher credential.

In a paper he authored in May 2011, The Optimal Role of National Certification in the Field of Massage Therapy, Rick Rosen, the co-founder and former Executive Director of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, stated the following:

….national certification at the entry level has been rendered unnecessary and redundant as a first credentialing step. To advance the field of massage therapy towards full professional status, NCBTMB must relinquish the task of entry-level credentialing to state licensing boards via the MBLEx. In place of its existing program, NCBTMB has an excellent opportunity to upgrade and repurpose what has been called “national certification” to a graduate-level credential. Decoupling certification from licensure would bring NCBTMB back to its original mission as the provider of a truly voluntary program that allows experienced practitioners to distinguish themselves through testing and demonstration of continued competence. That’s what certification was designed for.

Well, it’s great that NCBTMB has finally listened to what Rosen and other leaders in the field have been suggesting for a number of years.

I spoke with CEO Mike Williams and Board Chair Alexa Zaledonis last week to get a few questions answered, namely what has happened to the much-touted plan for an advanced certification. Williams and Zaledonis stated to me that the NCBTMB has cast aside their former plan for the N-CAP (Nationally Certified Advanced Practitioner) exam, based on negative feedback from the profession. I had personally been in favor of the N-CAP; however, I think the new credential is ultimately a much better solution. Another of Rosen’s statements, “Our field would benefit significantly from having a “generalist” credential that is available to massage therapists who have achieved a designated level of professional experience and continuing education beyond their foundational training,” seems to bear that out.

I don’t believe true licensing portability is ever going to happen in my lifetime. I am not sitting around holding my breath waiting for our organizations to all get together and sing Kum Ba Yah, although that would be nice. Turf wars are not a pretty sight, and the one between the NCBTMB and the FSMTB is no exception.  Both organizations have something to contribute, and they just need to get clear on what that is and to conduct themselves in a transparent and professional manner and in the spirit of what is good for the profession on the whole, not just what is financially lucrative for one organization. The recent MOCC proposal from the FSMTB that I have been reporting on recently would be financially lucrative for them, and that’s the only good thing I can say about it. To ignore the organization that has administered most of the continuing education for massage therapists in the country for the past 20 years is a political move that is, in my opinion, aimed at taking more money from the NCBTMB in the hopes of eventually crippling them altogether.

I remember the dark days when I had to report on the shenanigans of some of the previous leaders of the NCBTMB, and the Federation seems to be forcing me to do the same to them with some of their recent actions. I was gratified last week to see AMTA shoot down the MOCC proposal on more than 20 points, while ABMP President Les Sweeney spoke out in favor of it. It will be interesting to see if they have a response to this new plan from the NCBTMB.

The Leaders of the Massage Profession

Last week, the leaders of all the major organizations representing the massage therapy profession came together in St. Louis for a Massage Therapy Leadership Summit.

The Leaders of the Massage Profession

The Leaders of the Massage ProfessionMassage Therapy Leadership Summit meeting. The executive directors, CEOs, and board chairs of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE), the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP), the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF), and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork were all in attendance.

I have personally prayed for this to happen for a long time, and was thrilled that it took place. Rick Rosen, Executive Director of the AFMTE, shared this photo on my Facebook page. I of course spread it through my networks, and it prompted a question from Julie Onofrio: “Are these people massage therapists, and have they ever been in practice?” I’ll try to answer that to the best of my ability. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all these folks, and I know some of them better than others. In the event I get any of the facts wrong here, I’m sure someone can straighten me out!

I will say up front that as for the most part these are organizations that have many members, huge budgets, and myriad issues and details to take care of, I don’t believe that being a massage therapist is a prerequisite for being a CEO or an ED. That is a position that generally requires a college education, and enough expertise to run a multi-million dollar concern. The AFMTE is only two years old–they don’t quite fall into that category yet, but they will someday. Leadership of such an organization doesn’t necessarily require one to be a massage therapist, although it would certainly require an interest in massage. Here’s my scoop on the leaders:

Rick Rosen, the founder and Executive Director of the AFMTE is indeed a licensed massage therapist. In fact, he is the proud owner of the first massage therapy license issued in the state of North Carolina. He is the co-founder, along with his wife Carey Smith, of the Body Therapy Institute in Siler City, NC, which they started in 1983. It is one of only two COMTA-approved schools in the state. He was the founding chairman and a past member of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and was the first Executive Director of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. He currently serves as Executive Director of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, a national organization for massage schools, teachers and continuing education providers. Rick is a 2010 inductee into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame, and was named as one of the Top 10 People in Integrative Medicine/Integrative Health Care in 2010. He also has a degree in advertising from the University of Florida, a master’s in humanistic psychology from West Georgia College, is certified by the Hakomi Institute body-centered psychology, is certified in structural integration, and is a graduate of the Florida School of Massage.

Pete Whitridge, the President of the AFMTE, has been a massage therapist since 1987 and has been an instructor at the Florida School of Massage since 1989. He has served AMTA on the Council of Schools, served 5 years on the Florida Board of Massage including being the Chair, served COMTA as a reviewer, has also served on the faculty of the Spacecoast Health Institute for 14 years, and Indian River Community College for 7 years. He is also on the Education Committee of the Massage Therapy Foundation. Pete also has a BA in History and Political Science.

Shelly Johnson, Executive Director of AMTA, served as the Deputy Director for 8 years before being named ED in 2010 after the departure of Elizabeth Lucas. Shelly is not a massage therapist, but she has worked with associations for 22 years, including the American Society for Quality. She also was previously Executive Director for the American Society of Neuroscience Nurses, the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing, the Neuroscience Nursing Foundation and the American Society for Healthcare Materials Management of the American Hospital Association. Johnson has a BA in Political Science and Communication from Augsburg College.

Glenath Moyle, President of AMTA, gets the longevity award in this crowd! Glenath has been doing massage for more than 50 years. In her first career, she was a geriatric nurse, and massaging patients was a regular part of her routine. She attended massage school in Portland OR and started practicing in earnest in 1987. Prior to becoming the President of the national organization, Moyle was a tireless volunteer in her state chapter. Needless to say, she’s very excited that the national convention is coming to her hometown this year.

Bob Benson, the Chair of ABMP, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. Prior to coming to ABMP, Benson worked in public policy in Washington, DC, and spent 19 years as President of two public companies. The membership of ABMP has grown by more than 10 times over since Benson came on the scene. He was the catalyst for the creation of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, notably funding that organization to get it off the ground, and he worked for nine years to get statewide regulation in California, where he now serves on the board of the California Massage Therapy Council.

Les is More! Les Sweeney, President of ABMP, joined the organization in 1994 after learning about association management at the Club Managers Association of America. He served as VP from 1999-2006. Sweeney has an MBA from the University of Colorado. In 2006, Les decided to step up to the plate and get an education in massage! He graduated from the Holistic Learning Center in Evergreen and became Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage. Les has expressed to me personally that he just wanted to know more about massage and get the “real feel” for what ABMP members do. Good for him for taking the plunge and investing in that.

Kate Zulaski is the Executive Director of COMTA. She has a BA in Geology, and attended the Institute for Psycho-Structural Balancing in CA, and went on to become the Dean of Education at the school before joining COMTA in 2009.

Kate has in-depth experience both as a massage therapy practitioner as well as an educator, having most recently served as Dean of Education from 2006 to 2009 for the International Professional School of Bodywork (IPSB) in San Diego, California. Prior to being named Dean of Education, Zulaski also served as an IPSB Massage Instructor and Clinic Supervisor.  Zulaski has also studied a variety of bodywork modalities through the California Naturopathic College; Society of Ortho-Bionomy International; the Natural Healing Institute; and the International Professional School of Bodywork. She has been active in volunteer work for the AMTA Teacher of the Year Awards Committee and the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education Standards Committee, and is a long-time member of the ABMP.

Randy Swenson, a COMTA Commissioner who was also present, is a chiropractor. Dr. Swenson is currently a tenured professor and Dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences at National University of Health Sciences (NUHS). He developed the Massage Therapy Program in 1999 and continues to manage the day-to-day operations of the program. He is also responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree completion and professional pre-requisite programs. He was previously the Academic Dean and the Dean of Curriculum Development for the chiropractic program at NUHS. He holds a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from NUHS and a Master of Health Professions Education from the Department of Medical Education of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has led NUHS Steering Committees for Higher Learning Commission Self-Study Reports (SSR) and Commission on Chiropractic Education SSR’s. He has led and written COMTA SSR’s for the NUHS massage program. Dr. Swenson has been a site-team member, site-team leader and off-site peer reviewer with COMTA since 2006.

Ruth Werner, fearless leader of the Massage Therapy Foundation, is the author of the Guide to Pathology for Massage Therapists and the Disease Handbook for Massage Therapists, both published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Werner is a graduate of the Brian Utting School of Massage in Seattle in 1985, and completed the Advanced Training Program and Teacher Training Program with the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, MA in 1991. I’ve attended a couple of classes (a definite privilege!) taught by Ruth, where she honestly shared with the class that she feels her real talent is sharing research about massage rather than actually doing massage. We’d all be a lot worse off if that wasn’t so. Her pathology book has been my go-to source from the moment I entered massage school. She has taught curriculum at 4 massage schools and continuing education classes all over the world.

Debra Persinger, Executive Director of the FSMTB, has a PhD in human services from Kansas State University. Dr. Persinger, a native of New Zealand, joined the National Certifying Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) in 1996. Before accepting the position of interim CEO, she served as the commission’s executive director of operations, and was originally hired to be its director of examination development. Persinger is also co-author of Sand to Sky: Conversations with Teachers of Asian Medicine (iUniverse, 2008).

Paul Lindamood, current CEO of the NCBTMB, has more than 20 years of executive-level experience. Lindamood has devoted his career to positioning, directing and promoting associations, professional firms, healthcare organizations, businesses and non-profits. In fact, it was in this capacity that he first began working with NCBTMB, directing the organization’s communications, public relations, media and re-branding strategies. He has worked with a wide-range of healthcare and non-profit organizations and led successful branding, fundraising, recruitment and consumer awareness initiatives for American Red Cross, United Way, International Association of Business Communicators, Jobs for Graduates, Leukemia Society of America, March of Dimes, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, City of Hope, Hospice, Junior Achievement, Small Business Administration, and many others.

Alexa Zaledonis, Chair of the NCBTMB, is the owner/operator of Even Keel Wellness Spa, a therapeutic massage and skin care center in Annapolis, Maryland. A graduate of the Baltimore School of Massage, she passed the NCE in 2002 and has spent the past seven years building her practice in the community.  Zaledonis is a certified Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage practitioner and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength Professionals Association. Zaledonis currently is completing her Yoga Teacher Training (RYT200). She also teaches Thai Massage seminars at Even Keel Institute for Continuing Education and is an NCBTMB-approved provider.

A former Certified Public Accountant, Zaledonis specialized in healthcare and nonprofit organizations for more than 15 years. She received her bachelor’s degree from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut. I spoke to Zaledonis earlier today, and she told me that in addition to working 40 hours a week on behalf of the NCBTMB, she also personally does an average of 17 massages a week. A fellow workaholic!

Well, folks, there you have it. So yes, many of these folks do have actual massage experience. And those that don’t have been around this business long enough to appreciate those of us who do. They have all, in my opinion, served the massage profession with the best of intentions and keeping their eyes on the fact that it is the massage therapists in the trenches that they are working for. May they all enjoy peace and prosperity.

The Financial Health of Our Organizations: NCBTMB

Author’s note: This is the third year that I have reported on the financial state of the non-profit organizations of the massage therapy profession. The information I use to write these is obtained from www.guidestar.org, which is a clearinghouse of information on non-profits. If a non-profit does not provide their own Form 990 filing to Guidestar, it will be provided by the IRS, providing the organization meets the obligation of public disclosure. I am not an accountant or a financial expert. I merely offer this series as a source of information.

Just like last year, there’s good news, and there’s bad news for the organization. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork could be the poster child for cutting expenses when revenue drops. They have done a bang-up job of tightening the belt without making services suffer….I say that because people complain to me about any of our organizations all the time, and I haven’t gotten many complaints about the service from the NCBTMB in the past year.

The bad news is that revenue has taken another million-dollar hit, almost the same as the decline last year. $800,000 of that can be mainly chalked up to the MBLEx taking away exam revenue. The good news is that in spite of that, the organization managed to get back in the black, nothing short of miraculous since they were $1.9 million in the hole just a year ago. They reported a net revenue of a little over $469,000. The Approved Provider revenue was actually up by almost $100K over last year. Their assets increased by almost $500K, and liabilities decreased by over $200K as well. I’m very happy to see them back in the positive column.

The belt-tightening that went on at the NCBTMB, to me, is also telling of their getting back on track and letting go of the battle with the FSMTB over the MBLEx. Legal expenses dived by $185,000, since they realized the futility of interfering with the states in choice of examinations.

Marketing was scaled back to the tune of over $260K, another sign of improvement to me…instead of wasting money on an agressive anti-MBLEx campaign, their advertising efforts in the past year have focused on their own positives, and that’s a good thing.

Salaries and compensation went down over $300,000.  CEO Paul Lindamood’s compensation was $228K, down slightly from last year. I’d have to say he deserves it for his pivotal role in cutting expenses and focusing on the good points of the NCBTMB instead of continuing down the path of destruction that led to legal and financial woes for the organization. The Board and volunteers are also to be commended. There were 8 less employees reported in 2010 than there were in 2009, and 10 less volunteers.

Bottom line: I applaud the NCBTMB for turning it around. Even though revenue on the whole was down, I will almost take bets that as I get through this series, I’ll find that the same has happened at some of our other organizations. The recession has affected organizations just like it has affected massage schools and individual practitioners. Kudos to the NCBTMB for adapting to the situation.

Report from the NCBTMB Approved Provider/CE Meeting

I just got back from Chicago, where I participated in the Massage Approved Provider Panel convened by the NCBTMB. I have to say it was one of the best meetings I have ever attended. Everybody left their egos and their agendas at the door…not one single moment of tension or dissension occurred, in spite of the fact that competing entities were represented.

I spent the weekend sitting next to Bill Brown, Deputy Director of the AMTA. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Bill has wanted to strangle me a few times over my blog, and I’m glad he got the opportunity to know me a little better. I might have managed to convince him that I have a few redeeming qualities and I’m not just the crazy blogger he thought I was.

Cynthia Ribeiro, President-Elect of AMTA, was also present, and what a class act she is. I had supported Cynthia during the AMTA election, and there’s no doubt in my mind that was the right move. She is one fine lady who has made many contributions to our profession, and had a lot to contribute to the task at hand this week.

Bob Benson, Chairman of ABMP and Anne Williams, Director of Education for ABMP were there. Bob brought his considerable business acumen to the meeting. I’ve worked with Anne before and she’s just a go-getter who shares my philosophy of “make it happen.” She has a great sense of humor, too. There was a lot of laughing this week, which is always a great ice-breaker and good for the cohesiveness of the group.

The facilitator, Drew Lebby, provided exactly the right balance of keeping things moving, listening, and explaining. We had breakout groups and larger discussions and the whole meeting just had a great flow. Having been in meetings with some very boring facilitators in the past, I thought he was wonderful and I would highly recommend him to groups who are looking for a great facilitator. He has 35 years of experience at it and it shows.

I heartily applaud the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards for sending Kathy Jensen, VP of the FSMTB, and kudos to the NCBTMB for inviting the Federation to participate. Since the MBLEx has taken a huge chunk of the NCBTMB’s exam market share, and the Federation has also recently announced plans to jump into the CE approval arena, I can think of past administrations at the NCBTMB that would have spent the time sniping about the Federation as competition instead of inviting them to attend, all the more reason why I appreciate their willingness to play in the same sandbox. That theme was reiterated by Ribeiro and several others this week–this isn’t about your organization, or my organization, or who’s the biggest or the best–it’s about massage and increasing the quality of massage education.

COMTA was also represented by Commissioner Randy Swenson. Several state board members were in attendance, as were approved providers and a couple of nationally certified massage therapists.

The AFMTE was not represented, although they were invited to participate, and as a founding member of that organization I personally found their refusal to attend distressing. This meeting was about education, and in my opinion, they should have been there. I contacted Rick Rosen to give him the opportunity to explain their absence, and his response was that since the AFMTE has decided to partner with the FSMTB in developing their CE program, he felt it would blur the issue and divert their focus to attend.

Nice try, Rick, but since the Federation was invited, and in fact chose to participate in the meeting, I don’t buy it. The mere term “Alliance” suggests that you are representing education, and not just one faction of it. The Alliance could have made some great contributions to the meeting and you missed out on a good opportunity to do so. Rosen is of the opinion that the Federation should replace the NCBTMB and the individual states who do their own approvals as the only provider/CE approval entity. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that issue.

No one has been a more vocal critic of the NCBTMB than I have in the past, and I have defended the right of the FSMTB to offer their competing exam, as I don’t believe that any entity is entitled to a monopoly. I will go further and say that I don’t believe any entity is entitled to a monopoly in any arena, so I am not in support of the Federation having a monopoly on continuing education. They have the undeniable right to jump into the market if they choose, and the marketplace will decide. I am personally not going to be dictated to of which entity I have to throw my CE approval business to unless my state makes it a law that I have to choose one or the other. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

There are 42 member boards in the Federation and so far, although many states have voted to accept the MBLEx, and some have adopted it exclusively, many others have refused to throw out the NCB exams, and continue to give their licensees a choice in which exam to take. I believe the same thing will happen when it comes to continuing education. Some states will go with the FSMTB CE program, and others will continue to allow providers to make their own choice. It’s the American way. Furthermore, in many places legislative changes will be required in order to switch from one to another or add another approval entity, and we all know that legislation most often moves at the speed of molasses. That is also the American way.

There were a number of problems identified with the NCBTMB’s current system. For one thing, some providers have taken advantage of the fact that once they received approval, they could add on classes at will. Some have ignored the fact that there is a prohibition on classes that are based on a product they sell. Some have ignored the fact that there is a prohibition against classes based on religion and/or spiritual practices. Some have ignored the fact that they need to be genuinely qualified to teach in their subject area.

Bruce Baltz, an NCBTMB Board member, mentioned people who teach NMT techniques suddenly throwing in a class in lymphatic drainage needing to be looked at carefully…sorry, but your attendance at a weekend workshop does not qualify you to suddenly start teaching it yourself. The people who have been guilty of these offenses are going to have a little awakening when some of the changes to the program are implemented.

The suggestions for solutions were great and it was interesting to see that when we broke up into small groups to do problem solving, most of the groups were on the same page. Some of the suggestions included requiring providers to submit videos of their classes, a much stricter and more frequent auditing process, an improved evaluation process where students can go online anonymously and evaluate teachers and class content, a required online class for teachers themselves to improve instructor competence…lots of good ideas that the NCBTMB is going to consider and decide which ones to implement.

Every organization and individual at the meeting expressed a genuine interest in assisting the NCBTMB in this endeavor. Even better, they all agreed that all the organizations, not just a choice few, need to come together once or twice a year for the good of the profession. Bob Benson stepped up to the plate on that front and good for him for doing so…AMTA and ABMP can take a few swipes at each other, but in the final analysis, there is room in the sandbox and he knows it.

All in all, I thought it was a wonderful gathering of some of the best and brightest, with the intent of creating a positive outcome, and I was honored to have been included. Paul Lindamood and his team did a great job in organizing the gathering and assembling the best people they could get. And hey, any meeting that includes keeping chocolate on the table at all times does it for me.

10 Questions for Alexa Zaledonis, New Chair of the NCBTMB

Alexa Zaledonis, LMT, CPT, NCTMB, is the new Chair of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. She is the owner/operator of Even Keel Wellness Spa, a therapeutic massage and skin care center in Annapolis, Maryland. Even Keel employs seven full-time and several part-time employees who specialize in Thai, sports and rehabilitative massage.

A graduate of the Baltimore School of Massage, she passed the NCE in 2002 and has spent the past seven years building her practice in the community. Zaledonis is a certified Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage practitioner and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength Professionals Association. Zaledonis currently is completing her Yoga Teacher Training (RYT200). She also teaches Thai Massage at Even Keel Institute for Continuing Education and is an NCBTMB-approved provider.

A former Certified Public Accountant, Zaledonis specialized in healthcare and nonprofit organizations for more than 15 years. She received her bachelor’s degree from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut.

I am NCTMB myself since 2000, and I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly at the NCBTMB. They had a few rocky years and have been the target of my pen on numerous occasions…and in the past year or so, have received my accolades as well, as I feel they’ve made a big effort to right themselves. I don’t expect perfection from any person or organization, but I do expect effort, and I’m glad to report it when I see it happening. I’m glad to see Zaledonis take over the helm of the 9-member Board of Directors, and recently took the opportunity to find out more about her and her future plans for the organization. I recently seized the opportunity to ask her a few questions. My interview follows, and her answers are printed verbatim:

1. How long have you been involved with the NCB, and what previous roles have you been in there, if any?

By definition, I am not your “normal” volunteer. I joined NCB as a Board member in 2007, became Chair Elect in 2009. I had no prior volunteer experience with NCB before joining the board, outside of being a proud certificant. Volunteering prior to 2007 was not a possibility. I moved to Annapolis in 2003 and began my practice while still working part time as a CPA—there was no time for sleep, much less time to be a valuable volunteer. I believe if you can’t commit then don’t raise your hand.

2. What first led you to volunteer?

I raised my hand. I had figured out how to be a competent therapist, teach the community the value of quality massage and help other therapists to succeed in a viable career. Then, one morning, I asked myself, “What is the future for my employees, for myself, for the industry?”  I was one person helping a village. I knew that I needed to belong to a bigger village, and because national certification was always the backbone of my career as a CPA, becoming a volunteer at NCB was a natural next step for me.

3. What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing the NCBTMB today?

While massage therapy may be an ancient art, the industry in this country is young and will continue to evolve. There are incredible opportunities for our profession, but that can be a double-edged sword. What I mean is, it’s easy to lose focus without input and guidance from stakeholders. That’s why we always base what we test for and what we do programmatically on what the profession tells us is important. So the challenge is really to listen—and to always make sure that the individual therapist is heard, has a say and stays involved.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” At NCB we are trying every day to listen, and then help lead our industry to grow in new ways. Sometimes, that requires forging new paths—like the advanced practice credential for example.

4. What are your priorities for your term as the Chair?

We have so many great things going on, but my top priorities surround the execution of the National Certification for Advanced Practice, or the NCAP, and future specialty credentials. Also, addressing the issues of continuing education and nurturing and enhancing our school compliance program. I look forward to seeing all of our programs work hand in hand, each one helping the next one to add value to and take the industry to new heights.

5. In your From the Top letter on the website and the one that was recently mailed out to the associations and regulatory boards, you talk about revamping the Continuing Ed/Approved Provider program and vetting individual courses. One of the most serious problems at the NCB in years gone by was overwhelming inefficiency, which was the main reason for switching to the present system of audits instead of requiring each class to be vetted. How do you plan to keep that from happening again? Are you going to hire new staff?

Yes, NCB is developing a new National Approved Provider and Continuing Education program, but at this point, nothing is written in stone. We have invited thought leaders, subject matter experts, state board representatives, peer organizations, approved providers and certificants to engage in high-level discussions and participate in the Massage Approved Provider Panel. The response has been impressive.

I think people in the profession are ready to take the next logical step for Continuing Education. And that is to define, differentiate and identify the educational level of the wide variety of modalities and subjects offered. We are looking to design a user-friendly review and approval process, but the panel will help inform the best way to go about accomplishing that.

The magnitude of continuing education has grown far beyond the conventional methods of administering and maintaining a program. We have to think outside of the box. Forge a new path. We have a rough framework of ideas and have are asking subject matter experts to share their best thinking. This truly involves the entire profession.

Imagine this: what if it were possible that in its final form, the national program could consist of an array of industry-wide workgroups comprised of key stakeholders as part of the “engine” that vets CE for the entire profession. All-inclusive involvement. Now that would be groundbreaking! And at the end of the day, it’s everyone together working to move the profession forward while protecting the safety of the public. Blazing new trails.

6. The NCBTMB has taken a substantial financial hit in the past year or two, but as I reported in my annual financial series, there’s been a great job done in cutting expenses. Do you think the NCB can remain financially viable?

Laura, there is no doubt we have had to make some important strategic decisions. But we are proud of our accomplishments, and in fact, independent auditors have said that NCB has exhibited a textbook turnaround during the last two years.

The NCB Board, along with senior leadership, have worked hard to ensure that our current programs, personnel and operational concerns are sound, support one another and offer real benefits for our certificants and the profession. This is how we are building value. With Paul Lindamood as CEO and my love of financial statements, you can bet we will keep close watch on the fundamentals…and the finances!

7. There are now a couple of other organizations looking at getting into the approval of continuing education. Do you think the NCB can stay competitive in the marketplace if that happens?

Thus far, everyone seems to be showing great interest in being part of our Massage Approved Provider Panel. I don’t see this as competition. I see this as the industry putting forth their best effort on something, and that is a beautiful thing.

8. How is the NCAP progressing? I need to know since I plan to be the first one to take it!
And Laura we want test number one to have your name on it! NCB has spent more than a decade polling the profession and has witnessed the growing demand for an advanced credential. Not only that, but the medical industry is showing exceptional interest in it as well. We have spoken to numerous doctors who all support an advanced credential. This is incredibly exciting for the profession—and we are only scratching the surface.

Regarding our progress on the NCAP, a Job Task Analysis survey was sent out the latter part of 2010 and we have just received the preliminary report. NCB would like to thank all of our partners in the field from professional organizations to schools and students as well as industry media for spreading the word about the survey. We had a tremendous response.

Our next steps involve the development of test specifications, which will be sent out for public comment in March. After that, item writing will begin in earnest. It is a very comprehensive and rigorous process.

9. Your term is for a period of two years. Do you think you can accomplish all the things you want to accomplish?

Two years is not a long time. However, as I quoted Emerson earlier, I will be happy with my accomplishments if I can help to blaze a path to advance this profession, and most importantly leave trail markers clear enough for the next person to follow.

10. What’s your fondest hope for the organization going into the future?

I hope that the organization can help to bring this scenario to life:

Therapist calls prospective employer:

Ring Ring

Employer:             “Hello, Human Resources at Community General Hospital”

Therapist:             “Hello I am a Massage Therapist and was wondering if you are hiring?”

Employer:             “Well your timing couldn’t be better. We are always looking for qualified                                 people. Tell me about yourself.”

Therapist:             “I am a Licensed and Certified Massage Therapist. I hold a National                                 Certification in Advanced Practice, am working toward a specialty in                             Medical Massage and have a list of qualified continuing education I can                         share with you.”

Employer:             “Your credentials sound great. We only hire Licensed and Nationally Certified Therapists. Why don’t you send over a resume and we can set up a time to talk.”

You gotta think big Laura. Thanks for giving me the chance to be a part of your blog.

NCBTMB Revamping Approved Provider Program

Alexa Zaledonis, the new Chair of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, is starting off her term with a bang. In a joint statement issued today with Paul Lindamood, Executive Director, Zaledonis states that the NCBTMB is about to undertake a major initiative to improve the CE Approved Provider program. The statement acknowledges that this evolution is necessitated by the fact that there are now over 1700 providers, and that what worked in the beginning is not necessarily going to serve the purpose in the future. The folks at the NCBTMB are aware that times are changing, and it’s time for a Spring cleaning.

The statement says in part:

We also anticipate a move toward comprehensive course-by-course review and auditing of all AP offerings. NCBTMB has reviewed the processes in place, as well as the needs of the profession, and the conclusions suggest:

  • a review of course content against a more robust set of criteria for every class is imminent
  • the requirement for a specific set of teaching qualifications is compelling
  • a stratified system of course designations is fast approaching to differentiate entry-level and advanced CE

In the old paradigm, once an instructor was approved as a provider, additional classes could be added to the list of offerings without the individual class being vetted for content. Unfortunately, some people have taken advantage of that to bend the rules.

According to the Approved Provider Reference Guide, appropriate continuing education is meant to go beyond what is expected of an entry-level therapist who has 500 hours of education.

Inappropriate content includes, but is not limited to, classes that are about diagnosing clinical conditions, implementing allopathic medical or surgical procedures, physically invasive procedures such as ear candling or colonics, techniques that incorporate osteopathic/chiropractic procedures such as ballistic thrusting and joint manipulations, procedures that require additional licensure or certification such as physical therapy, Pilates instructor training, personal training, etc.; any class that is about how to prescribe herbs, nutritional supplements, and/or pharmaceuticals; any class about how to perform hypnosis, aesthetic facials, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, or acupuncture, and any class that is about psychological counseling, or psychic, clairvoyance, telepathic, astrology, religious or spiritual practices. There is also a prohibition of any class that is based on a product that the student is expected to buy, which some providers have also ignored.

The NCBTMB has sent out letters inviting participation on a Massage Approved Provider Panel to the leadership of the professional membership organizations, regulatory boards, providers, certificants, and leaders of the profession. I think this is a great initiative, and since it’s meant to improve the CE/AP program that serves almost every state, I certainly hope that politics are put aside here for the greater good of the profession. It’s the right thing to do.

The Financial Health of Our Organizations: NCBTMB

This is the second year that I have written a series on the financial status of the non-profit organizations associated with the massage therapy profession. I am not an accountant or a financial expert. All the information in my blogs on this subject is available for public viewing on www.guidestar.org, which is a clearinghouse of information on non-profit organizations.

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. The bad news is that like some of our other non-profit organizations, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork has taken a substantial financial hit during the past reporting year. In this particular instance, it can’t be blamed entirely on the recession; the MBLEx has taken a big chunk of change out of the exam revenues of the NCBTMB–over one million dollars in the past year alone.

Income from the sale of the mailing list decreased by over $30,000, which may also be indicative of the financial status of other businesses and organizations who have previously purchased the list. There’s always a trickle-down effect during a recession.

The good news is that recertification revenues actually rose by over $187,000; it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who values my National Certification enough to keep it up.

I also have to applaud the NCB for the way they have cut expenses. Their belt-tightening is nothing short of impressive. When revenues go down, expenses should go down (albeit not at the expense of customer service), and apparently not all our organizations get that concept, as I have pointed out on a previous blog or two. I think the general public relates well to that…when you earn less money, you have to spend less money.

Compensation to officers, directors, trustees and key employees was decreased by $418,000. Other salaries and wages were decreased by almost $160,000. Legal fees were down by more than $321,000. Advertising and promotional fees, office expenses, conference and convention expenses, printing expenses and other expenses decreased. Altogether, the NCBTMB cut expenses more than 2.4 million dollars from the previous year.

Paul Lindamood, CEO, drew a salary of $230k. Board members are also compensated at the NCBTMB; Chair Neal Delaporta is listed as devoting an average of 17 hours per week to the NCB and was compensated $55,000 for that service. Other Board members received anywhere from $3000 to over $13,000 for their part-time service. Former COO Laura Edgar Culver received more than $128,000.

Lindamood had personally stated to me earlier this year that the organization was doing everything possible to cut expenses, and I am happy to see that has in fact been done. Assets have increased and liabilities have decreased.

When the economy goes down, charitable contributions go down. I am particularly glad to report that in spite of the harsh financial hit the NCBTMB has taken, they still managed to donate $10,000 to the Massage Therapy Foundation. I think that shows commitment to the good of this profession. They could have easily said “we can’t afford it this year,” but they didn’t. Kudos to them.

I hope the recession is winding down for everyone, all the small business owners, all those who work in our profession and support industries, and our non-profit organizations as well.

AMTA-MA Chapter Sets the Bar High

This past weekend I was fortunate to be invited to teach at the 50th anniversary celebration of the MA Chapter of AMTA. Let me tell you, these people know how to throw a party!

To begin with, in honor of hitting the 50-year mark, the members got to attend this magnanimous occasion for the paltry sum of 50 bucks–and that included their education and meals. The food and service at the Crowne Plaza in Worcester was excellent. The folks in this chapter are excellent.

The Chapter made a $10,000 donation to the Massage Therapy Foundation. MTF President Ruth Werner and IPP Diana Thompson were both in attendance and said it was the biggest chapter donation in the history of the organization. They also raised another $800 by raffling off a quilt made by Ruth Werner, that was matched by the NCBTMB for a total of $1600, that was also donated to the MTF.

The vendors were great, lots of giveaways, and Massage Today and Massage Warehouse went a little crazy giving away all kinds of goodies, including a massage table and several chairs.

The NCBTMB was one of the sponsors of the event and I spent time with their CEO, Paul Lindamood and the Director of Exam Development, Elizabeth Langston chatting about the forthcoming Advanced Certification Exam. Even the BOD Chair, Neal Delaporta, was very gracious to me, which is nice since I’ve been quite nasty to him in my blog over the years.

I shared a shuttle to the airport with Diana Thompson. She’s not old enough for me to refer to her as one of the grandmothers of massage, but I found out massage has been her one and only career since the age of 19. After rising to the position of leading the Massage Therapy Foundation, and is now the IPP, she still does 10-15 massages every week. I think that’s amazing.

Mary White, Richard Wedegartner, Allissa Haines, Lisa Curran Parenteau, Sister Pat and all the rest of the chapter members bent over backwards to make me feel welcome. The people who attended my classes in Using Research to Market Your Practice were great.

The theme of this gathering was promoting research in massage therapy, and I don’t think it could have been any better. I also enjoyed seeing so many friends and FB friends–met quite a few people who have been on my FB page and that’s always fun. I also had dinner with Chris Alvarado and Angie Palmier, who were there teaching “Research Rocks.”

I encourage every AMTA chapter in the world to shamelessly steal this theme for an upcoming meeting. We need to educate therapists about research so they can go out and educate the rest of the world.

Thanks so much to the fine massage therapists of MA!

Laura Allen