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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

Ahmos Netanel

Chief Executive Officer

California Massage Therapy Council

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

 

 

 

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