SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – For many massage therapists throughout the Peach State, there is a tough choice to make after the Board of Massage Therapy upheld existing requirements to complete several hours of hands-on training. Do they attend classes and risk catching coronavirus? Or, do they give up their license to legally work in the state?
“We have to take this seriously. This is our livelihoods, this is our careers,” said Alicia Arocho, the owner and operator of Productive and Therapeutic Massage in Savannah.
Arocho says business is already slow, but a looming deadline to complete her training and a lack of communication from the board are making her future in massage more uncertain.
According to the Rules and Regulations of the State of Georgia, massage therapists are required to renew their licenses every two years or, more specifically, by Oct. 31 of every even-numbered year.
To renew a license, each applicant must earn 24 credits of “continuing education,” 12 of which must include hands-on learning inside a classroom. The law has been in place for several years.
Many therapists say in-person learning is impossible and dangerous to complete during a pandemic. They say it is impossible to prevent the spread of droplets and to social distance during the classes.
“When it comes to our hands-on classes, we’re not just sitting down taking notes like you’re in school or something,” said Arocho. “A lot of our stuff goes through demonstration.”
In June, members of the Board of Massage Therapy voted to uphold current requirements to take in-person classes, despite the pandemic. Adrienne Price, the executive director of healthcare at the Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division, did not wish to comment on the reasoning behind the decision or on WSAV’s story. She pointed News 3 to the website for more information.
Minutes from the board’s June meeting have not been approved and are, therefore, not available on the department’s website. Price says the board will review the decision to uphold requirements at the next meeting on Aug. 28.
Freelance Licensed Massage Therapist Liana Bond says even if she felt comfortable taking an in-person class, many cost hundreds of dollars and have been canceled in Savannah. That would require her to travel out-of-state or to Atlanta to take one. She has already been furloughed from her previous jobs and says she does not have extra money to make the trip.
“We’re forced…we either do this or we lose our license. We either do this or we can’t work,” said Bond. “I don’t feel like that’s fair. We’re a group of people whose career is really fragile.”
An online petition is now growing to ask the governor and the board to waive in-person requirements or extend the deadline to complete the hours.
Arocho — who says she has a vulnerable immune system — worries that if the board does not reconsider, the health of herself and her business will be at stake.
“In order for us to keep our business doors open, to be able to operate as massage therapies and not bring harm…to our clients… they should be able to consider some other options for our health safety,” she said.