June 2020 Government Relations Update

By Susan Sherman, LMT, and Diana Thompson, LMT, Co-Chairs

June 3, 2020

Normally, after a legislative session ends, there’s a break in the workload. But, this year, the pandemic arrived just as the Legislature was adjourning. So, our work as Government Relations Co-Chairs shifted quickly from focusing on the Legislature to focusing on the impact of the pandemic on massage therapists. And as always, our work is done in coordination with AMTA-WA lobbyists Gail McGaffick and Melanie Stewart.

We acknowledge that we had to do such a deep dive on issues related to the pandemic, that we’re just now coming up for air. And in doing so we want to share what AMTA-WA has been doing for the benefit of the massage therapy profession.

Back to the beginning of the pandemic. In the beginning, we had a multitude of proclamations from the Governor’s office on a wide variety of subjects. One of the first things the Governor did was to issue Proclamation 20-24 which essentially shut down all health care that was determined to be non-essential or non-urgent. While the Governor quickly determined that spas were to be closed, the massage profession was confused about how to determine whether massage could be provided under the terms of the Proclamation. As a result of that confusion, AMTA-WA worked with the Department of Health (DOH) to obtain meaningful guidance that was issued on April 27th. Even though that guidance has now been rescinded in light of an updated proclamation, we were very grateful to the Board of Massage staff within DOH for working closely with us on what was, at the time, very important information for all massage therapists.

Non-urgent Health Care Reopens. On May 18, 2020, the Governor issued Proclamation 20-24.1 titled: “Reducing Restrictions on, and Safe Expansion of, Non-Urgent Medical and Dental Procedures.” The Proclamation was written by large health care systems, and it shows. It is a complex document, and its wording is better suited to large health care entities than individual providers. One of the important takeaways from the document is that it applies to non-urgent health care provided in any county in the state, regardless of what phase the county is in. In essence, this Proclamation is the definitive word on health care services at this time.

There was a lot of confusion in the massage community as to whether the Proclamation applied to massage therapists, in general, because of the word “medical” in the title. In addition, there was also confusion as to whether it applied to any setting where a massage therapist could provide services, such as a spa. As stated earlier, in the beginning of the pandemic, the Governor said spas were closed, but essential health care, to include massage, was allowed. Bottom line, there has been so much confusion concerning the massage profession and the wording in this Proclamation continued it. Clearly, the massage profession needed additional clarity.

Beginning on May 18, when the Proclamation was introduced, ATMA-WA’s lobbyists started the journey of getting clarification on the impact of the Proclamation on the massage profession. And it was a journey, and we didn’t do it alone. We thank other groups who joined in, and mostly we thank individual massage therapists who called the Governor’s office asking for clarification. We needed a grassroots movement! As always, grassroots participation makes an impact beyond that of a single voice or group, so thank you again for speaking up.

On this journey, our lobbyists had multiple communications with the DOH. We also participated in the May 22nd webinar for association leaders and lobbyists where we asked some specific questions that related to the lack of clarity of the Proclamation. We followed up after that meeting and were initially told that the Department of Health was not in a position to interpret a Governor’s proclamation. We followed up again, and together with the help of many voices, finally on May 31st we received the information we needed. Please read carefully.

While this information is a big step forward, we know that massage therapists will have questions concerning the Proclamation. The Proclamation requires that all non-urgent care must be provided in good faith, with reasonable clinical judgment, and must meet the procedures and criteria listed in the Proclamation beginning on page 3. Unfortunately, we do not expect any further guidance from either DOH or the Governor’s Office. However, massage therapists do have a great resource in the form of a document written by the Federation of State Boards of Massage Therapy, with input from all of the major massage organizations to include AMTA, on key topics related to re-opening. In addition, we will continue to advocate, together with other health professions, on the need for guidance for smaller provider practices.

Rule-making. As some of you may know, AMTA-WA has been engaged in rule-making with the Board of Massage for the past five years. It’s been another journey, and we are grateful for the ability to collaborate with DOH through its Board of Massage. In fact, this Friday the Board will be meeting to hopefully vote on a CR-102 to move phase two of the rules forward toward a public hearing.

Continuing Education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary of Health extended all health profession license expiration dates for licenses up for renewal between  April 1 and September 30, 2020. That also means that no CE needs to be reported until after September 30. At the upcoming Board of Massage meeting on June 5th, Board Members will be determining what changes, if any, to make in CE requirements during this challenging time. AMTA-WA has advocated for a removal of the requirement for 8 hours of in person hands-on CE through 2021. The number of CE hours would remain the same at 24, but without the requirement of any in person hands on training. Bottom line, we support flexibility in CE requirements during this time to include a total waiver through 2020. Also, please note that AMTA-WA is offering free on-line CE courses for its members.

Our thanks. Finally, our thanks to you, AMTA-WA members, for supporting our important work on behalf of the massage profession. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Diana at soapsage@comcast.net and Susan at s_sherman@earthlink.net .