Calgary Herald Editorial: http://www.calgaryherald.com/opinion/Editorial+good+hands/7013525/story.html
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August 9, 2012
To: Calgary Herald Editorial Board
From: Colleen MacDougall, Executive Director & Registrar
Natural Health Practitioners of Canada Association
Subject: July 30, 2012 Editorial: In good hands. Standards for massage therapists are overdue
As you point out in the opening paragraph of your July 30th editorial, In Good Hands, your editorial board is on the same page as some major insurers: that is to say, like them you care nothing for the public interest. If you did, you would have called more than one source and would have done more than reprint the promotional material provided by insurance carriers. The inaccuracies in your piece are numerous, the errors egregious, and the slant is all about protecting the profits of billion-dollar corporations at the expense of hard-working Albertans both within and outside the massage therapy sector.
First, Sun Life is NOT “now refusing claims from Alberta masseurs who don’t meet the educational standard.” In fact, Sun Life has had in place a requirement for EITHER 2,200 hours of training OR a demonstrated equivalence for quite some time. That’s because the educational benchmark is intended to help demonstrate competence. But because it doesn’t do so as effectively as our industry might like, a national standard for competence has been developed; one that focuses on knowledge and performance indicators. Thus, Sun Life quite properly relies on professional associations to determine competence based on reasonable criteria.
Second, Ms. Pritchard is at best disingenuous when she notes the dangers inherent in standards of care and the “numerous horror stories” reported to her. She is mixing apples and oranges by contending that education is linked to unhygienic conditions and massage-related injury; these are issue of ethics and individual attention to detail, which are overseen by the professional associations and are subject to sanctions. As the Executive Director of the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada Association (NHPCA), the group representing the lion’s share of massage therapists in non-regulated jurisdictions, I can categorically state that we take a dim view of unethical behaviour, regardless of how much training the practitioner involved may have. In other words, someone 500 hours of training is no more likely than someone who took a 2,200-hour course to forget about “changing the sheets and cleaning the table after every client.” Like most professional associations, the NHPCA has a comprehensive public Complaints Resolution Process, mandatory member compliance with a Code of Ethics and Continued Competency Program and extensive member credentialing processes. These processes speak to the competency of our members and to our sectors commitment to public safety.
Third, by virtue of serving as de facto regulators—but without any kind of oversight or accountability—insurers are imposing themselves in an area they, by their own admission, know nothing about. For example, Manulife has given massage therapists in Canada a four-month notice stipulating that as of October 1, 2012, they will no longer reimburse clients for services unless the therapist in question has 2,200 hours of initial training or an equivalent demonstrated by an externally-administered exam. At the same time, Manulife is acknowledging its employees are not competent to assess the credentials of individual therapists. This decision means that a practitioner with five years of experience and hundreds of healthy, happy clients will no longer be able to practice his or her chosen profession. This, despite the fact that the individual is providing a valuable service; if s/he weren’t, clients wouldn’t return. Albertans aren’t stupid; if they’re being treated by an incompetent practitioner, they’ll figure it out pretty quickly. Albertans look to the benefit that they are receiving from their massage therapist. The insurance industry wants to benefit from a free-market system but doesn’t believe the same rules should apply to massage therapists. That’s not to say we don’t support the notion of standards; we do. We’re simply saying those standards should not be imposed arbitrarily by a third party with a vested interest in not paying for the service. The NHPCA supports the notion of standards through a government regulatory system. In the absence of this, Alberta associations are providing these standards.
Most of the practitioners who risk being put out of work as a result of Manulife’s four-month notice possess a combination of experience and education a recent 2,200-hour graduate would be hard-pressed to match. With time, that new therapist will gain the skills necessary but education is nothing more than the formal beginning of a long journey towards true expertise. Many Albertans depend on massage therapists to keep them healthy, happy, and productive. The public good is ill-served by actions that effectively reduce their ability to access services they need, which is exactly what’s going to happen as a result of Manulife’s four-month notice on their new criteria.
Finally, let’s consider what would happen if new educational standards were retroactively imposed on our province’s electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. What happens to the master plumber who suddenly has his tickets stripped until s/he can demonstrate as much book learning as a recent NAIT or SAIT graduate? Make sense? Of course not; no more so than telling highly experienced massage therapists that, while they’ve demonstrated their skill and expertise over many years of successful practice, they can’t practice their chosen professions until they pass an exam. Should an assessment tool be used to evaluate competence going forward? Absolutely. We’re quite comfortable with such a concept, particularly when it is introduced in an orderly manner that allows practitioners the time to prepare adequately. But telling healers that in 160 days all their years of experience will mean nothing and that they’ll no longer be able to provide the services they’ve offered to thousands of satisfied clients is just plain wrong. Perhaps the editors of the Calgary Herald should pay a visit to some of these "unqualified" therapists; maybe then you’d discover that the insurance industry is, as ever, motivated by financial, rather than public, interest.
Executive Director & Registrar
Natural Health Practitioners of Canada Association.