*This was written before the US stimulus package was passed and some independent contractors may be able to get unemployment pay
We are living in extraordinary times. Everyone I know has experienced hard times at some point, individually, but as a whole nation, and as the collective of massage therapists, we are currently going through things that we didn’t expect to go through. When this started (before it was acknowledged as a pandemic, and unfortunately even since), some people had the belief that it was something that existed on the other side of the world and wouldn’t affect us. Others have claimed it’s just a germ, or just the flu, or a political conspiracy. As a nation, we were ill-prepared. I will save my political rant about that for another day (or another book). Right now, people need help.
Many massage therapists have voluntarily shut down their practice, and that includes those who have no savings and are worried about where their next rent payment will come from. Others are continuing to work, citing their finances. Others work for chains that threaten that they will have no job if they refuse to work. Harder times are coming unless we do everything we can to stem the spread of this illness.
I have put together some information and some resources that massage therapists will hopefully find beneficial.
- Today (Saturday, March 21 2020) as I am writing this, the Senate and the House are in session, putting differences aside, and working with White House negotiators trying to finalize the details of the economic stimulus plan. Current thought is that individuals and small businesses will receive $1000-$1200 checks, and the plan is to get them out there very quickly, hopefully, April, and there may be an additional payment in May. The current thought is that if you filed taxes last year, you will not have to do anything special in order to receive it; it will automatically be mailed to you. I suggest watching national news shows to keep updated on this.
- The Department of Labor has several important announcements on its website. While there is a statement to contact your individual state, the Federal government has issued specific new guidance for the states. Under the guidance, federal law permits significant flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits where:
- An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
- An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
- An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.
- In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.
- Obviously, I cannot list resources for specific states. My suggestions are for you to contact your state unemployment office to find out. There are local offices in most towns. I live in a very small town, but there is one here.
- If you are a business owner, the Small Business Administration is helping small businesses with long-term (up to 30 years) loans at 3.75% interest that can cover operating expenses, payroll, etc. When you call your local office, say you are inquiring about the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (the name they are giving to this instance).]
- If you have credit card debt, don’t panic. Call your card company. Many of the major credit card companies are offering cardholders the opportunity to skip payments without interest.
- If you have a student loan, now is a good time to ask for forbearance. Contact your particular lender.
- Many utilities, phone, and internet companies are giving people a break right now by easing shutoffs and forgoing late payments. Call your utility company to find out what they are doing.
- There is further help for both renters and for homeowners. The Forbes website states that they will update this list as more information becomes available. Best advice, though, is if you feel you are going to get behind on your mortgage, call the lender now. Don’t wait until you’re in real trouble of being foreclosed on. In this environment, and because lenders often get the information about financial developments before they do, they will often be sympathetic and help you out by deferring payments or accepting partial payments or even refinancing at a favorable rate. They do not want to get stuck with a bunch of defaulted foreclosure properties in the midst of a recession, which we are undoubtedly heading for. They would probably rather take some money that no money, or give you a grace period on making payments.
If you rent or your home (or office space) is financed by an individual, all the more reason to handle it and call them now. See if they are able and willing to work with you. I have seen quite a few therapists on FB who said that their landlords were very sympathetic and willing to work with them. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Some landlords may take a hard line or just not be in a financial position to do so themselves and refuse, but if they think about it carefully, they may decide that they would have difficulty replacing their reliable tenants in this environment, and work with you.
- Seek LOCAL resources. Now is not the time for pride to stand in the way of doing things you wouldn’t normally do, such as going to a food bank or going to local charities to ask for assistance. Rutherford County NC, where I live, is NC’s largest county, area-wise, largely rural, and only has a population of about 60,000. There are probably at least 20 food pantries here that are operated by churches and community organizations. There is also a soup kitchen open somewhere every day of the week. There are several local non-profits that help people with rent, heating expenses (thank God the need for that is close to over in most places).
- Insurance tip from Allissa Haines: If you buy your health insurance on the national or your state exchange, you can probably edit your application to reflect your new income and get a lower rate. Allissa and Michael Reynolds have also made a lot of their podcasts available for free at https://www.massagebusinessblueprint.com/free-stuff
Speaking of insurance, keep in mind that your liability insurance will not cover you in the event of a client catching the virus in your practice. Allissa, incidentally, was exposed to the virus and was in the uncomfortable position of having to call her clients to tell them that they had been exposed. You do not want to find yourself in that position.
Seek a temporary job. Go to a local temp agency and see what’s available. MANY grocery stores are currently hiring due to the food panic that’s going on. Yes, you will still be in contact with people. However, grocers are not a licensed profession, and they do not swear to a code of ethics that they will First Do No Harm. Amazon is hiring. Walmart announced yesterday that they plan to hire 150,000 additional workers. Ingle’s announced the same.
There are many massage therapists that have other degrees, other trade experience, and/or other skills. I personally know many who are everything from CNAs, nurses, truck drivers, and formerly (or still part-time) work in other professions. Medical personnel is in great demand right now, and so are all kinds of support staff in hospitals, from the janitor to billing coders.
I’ve also seen some enterprising therapists who are doing home deliveries for people who can’t get out…doing errands, going to pick up groceries or to the drugstore for the elderly or immune-compromised. Some are even doing it as volunteers. If you are in the position of being able to do that, what service to your fellow inhabitants of the planet.
Now that schools and daycare centers have been shut down in many places, it’s possible that neighbors who are still able to work may need reliable temporary child care.
- Unless you are 100% self-quarantining, there is hardly any work situation we can be in where we will not be exposed to someone. Social distancing is the best way to flatten the curve. It gives us the best chance of not passing this on to anyone. Going out anywhere to work is a risk, but again, those who work outside of licensed health professions do not swear that they are going to uphold a code of ethics to first do no harm. If you are a licensed therapist, you took that oath. Uphold it. We cannot maintain any social distance with our hands-on unclothed bodies and our face inches away from theirs.
Be creative. You may possess skills that other people need that you can do at home, such as website building skills or baking bread (since there seems to be a run on that at the grocery store), proofreading, sewing, preparing taxes if you’re that savvy, or any number of things.
- If you are a member of a professional massage association, contact their leadership and ask for their assistance in getting unemployment coverage for massage therapists during this unusual circumstance. They pay lobbyists in nearly every state. You will find the links to their leadership on their websites.
ABMP has a link on their website supporting the effort to obtain benefits for massage therapists. It allows you to send a pre-written letter that they have supplied to your congressperson by filling in your info and submitting a form. PLEASE take advantage of this call to action. They also have updates on their website about the actions in different states as far as shutting down or limiting massage therapy. ABMP also has a link to state shutdown orders on their website.
AMTA has a link on their website supporting the effort to obtain benefits for massage therapists. It allows you to send a pre-written letter that they have supplied to your congressperson by filling in your info and submitting a form. PLEASE take advantage of this call to action. AMTA also has a link to state actions on their website.
Keep Up With The Latest Updates
PLEASE keep abreast of your state’s situation by checking the website of your governor, your local health department, and your state massage board. There has been a lot of criticism of state boards, due to confusion that state boards have the legal authority to shut down the practice of massage on a statewide basis, which is not true. They are regulatory boards, not legislative. They can and should make an announcement once your governor has signed an executive order to curtail massage or order the shutdown of anything in your state, but they cannot personally mandate that massage therapists have to shut it down.
City councils have in some cases taken it on themselves to shut it down on a local basis. Here in my state of NC, Asheville’s council has shut it down. Other places may do the same.
Some state boards have extended the deadline for CE/license renewal and/or made allowances for taking your CE, due to the cancellation of massage meetings and conventions. In my state of NC, we are allowed to do all 24 hours online this time, instead of the usual 12. Check your board website for info.
Professional association members can get CE online at no additional charge; it’s included in your membership dues.
Centers for Disease Control
World Health Organization
Wise Words From Massage Therapists I Listen To:
From Ruth Werner:
Ignore My Earlier Advice. Shut It Down.
My friends and colleagues, it’s time to shut it down. It’s past time to shut it down.
I wrote a piece two weeks ago that provided some ideas about how to take care of your practice, assuming you were still seeing clients. I hereby rescind that advice, and I apologize to anyone who was misled.
Close your practice.
For how long? Who knows?
If it were me, I would start with four weeks and re-evaluate after three.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had all the information we needed to make informed, non-panicky decisions that we knew would maximize effectiveness against the spread of COVID-19 virus, and minimize financial hardship? Sadly, we don’t have that data.
No one is going to make this decision for you. Not your membership organization, not your state board, only you.
No one is going to make this any easier for you.
This is your call. And if you want my opinion (and presumably you’re interested, because you’re reading this), here it is: close your practice.
Here are some things we know that have led me to this point of view:
1. The time between exposure and symptoms can be up to 14 days.
2. The virus is contagious for days before symptoms develop, so your “healthy client” might not be.
3. The virus stays intact on surfaces for several days; it stays intact in the air for several hours (at least).
4. COVID-19 is extremely contagious, and it doesn’t take a lot of exposure to spread from one person to another.
5. The virus appears to be contagious after symptoms subside—but we don’t know how long.
6. At this point, older people and those with impaired immune systems are not necessarily more likely than others to catch the virus, but they are more likely to need extensive medical interventions. (Although that may be changing. In some countries the number of people in hospital care is skewing much younger.)
7. We don’t have enough medical capacity to manage what’s coming—which makes it even more vital not to add to that load in any way.
There are so many things about this situation that should have been different. I could list a bunch, but (A) it wouldn’t help and (B) isn’t our blood pressure high enough without recounting all the ways our systems have failed us? And this frustration doesn’t even include some of the nutso crazy pants stuff I’ve seen on Facebook and other outlets. For the record, keeping your throat moist will not prevent you from getting sick with COVID-19. Neither will holding your breath for 10 seconds.
But if we all commit to extreme social isolation, it is practically for sure that the impact of COVID-19 in this country will be less extreme, at least in the short run. While roughly the same number of people will get sick, it will happen over a longer period of time. This “flattening of the curve” means our health-care facilities might be able to keep up with our needs, which means the mortality rate will fall. And the day will come when we might be able to look back and say, “Wow, that wasn’t so bad—weren’t we silly to over-react?”
This Will Demonstrate That We Did It Right
The naysayers and virus-skeptics and my-immune-system-is-strong-so-I’ll-do-what-I-want folks will point fingers and scoff and say we all fell for a huge hoax. Let them. They are wrong.
There’s a parallel in our recent history. In the 1970s, massive changes were put in place to limit the type of air pollution that caused acid rain. At that time, the rain was literally melting our forests and corroding our buildings, not to mention what it was doing to groundwater. The changes, while expensive and inconvenient for many industries, worked. Acid rain is no longer considered a threat. And the result: some people (including some politicians who should *swearword* know better) suggest that the changes were unnecessary because look: acid rain isn’t really a problem! Argle bargle. You can’t *swearword* win.
Let’s Make Some Lemonade!
The financial burden of losing several weeks of business is undeniable. I’m sorry, there’s no easy way out of this. Once this crisis has passed, it will be important to plan ahead for the next one. Financial planners recommend having at least a month’s worth of expenses put in an accessible savings account—just for events like this.
That said, having some dedicated but unscheduled time to devote to business holds a lot of potential.
This is a great time to do a really thorough cleaning of your office. Go in when it’s empty, and disinfect your equipment and surfaces. Do a top-to-bottom refresh. Dust, launder, swab, decontaminate, and shine up all your stuff. Listen to loud music while you do it. It will be fun. And when you go back to work—oh, such a joy it will be to enter your gorgeous, sparkling workplace!
This is a great time to take some continuing education online. Go shopping in the rich ABMP collection of online CE classes, here. You could take some business classes, and use this time to make plans for a grand re-opening. You could take some research literacy classes, and go on a PubMed.gov treasure hunt for articles that are up your alley. Have you always been curious about a certain technique or approach to bodywork? Here’s an opportunity to explore it to see what you might want to pursue in live classes.
Do you send out blogs or newsletters for your clients? Get ahead on your writing, and put some pieces away for later. It’s more important than ever to keep those lines of communication open, so this is a good investment of your energy. Let your clients know that while you can’t see them in person, you’re thinking of them.
It’s tax time: get ahead of your taxes for this year, and set up your books for easy use next year.
If you are caring for children during this time, include them in appropriate activities. Make them your model while you watch a technique video. Learn, or re-learn, some anatomy together. Make this time a gift.
Most of all, breathe deeply and be kind. Let’s take care of each other and help each other through a scary time. We’re going to be OK. We will emerge, poorer in money, but richer in experience because we took the right actions. And we will be ready to help our clients and our communities come back up to full speed when the time is right.
From Cal Cates:
Dear everyone who offers a service or type of care that is (when we’re being truly ego-free and honest) non-essential, but who is still staying open and touching/interacting in close proximity with people, but who is “being careful” and “prescreening”,
I have taken the liberty of creating a simplified form to support said caution and prescreening.
1. Please use the space below to list every surface you have touched, every place you have gone and the names of every person who has been within 6 feet of you over the last 14 days.
2. Please use the space below to do the same for each person that you listed above.
When you’re done thoroughly completing this form, the COVID-19 crisis should be over and we’ll be cool to proceed.
From Tracy Walton:
I understand that professional organizations are finding it hard–really hard–to discern right action right now. I have compassion for them and for all of us.
At the same time, this directive falls short (note–she was speaking of the original statement from AMTA, which did not advise therapists to stop doing massage).
The guidelines and messages from other countries are crystal-clear:
Social distancing now. Not tomorrow, now.
Massage is not in accord with social distancing.
Massage therapy may be health care, and important and essential, but it is elective and requires close contact by its nature.
Asymptomatic clients and therapists can and most likely are transmitting the virus.
We cannot afford to miss this. The stakes are unfathomably high.
My practice is closed for 3 weeks and probably longer.
I started taking bodywork classes back in 1993, finished massage school in 1999, and was in the first wave of people to get licensed in NC. I taught Ethics and marketing classes to my own class in massage school. They needed an instructor and I was qualified, so I was hired. I love massage therapy. I received my first one over 30 years ago when I woke up one morning and couldn’t turn my head. My enlightened mother took me to get a massage. After spending over 20 years in the restaurant business, I sold out and started massage school. I became an Approved Provider of Continuing Education, and since that time, I’ve taught more classes than I can count, mainly in the areas of Ethics, but also teacher training classes, marketing, and massage classes.
I also spent several years volunteering as a Unit Coordinator and later as the administrator of all the coordinators for the NC Chapter of AMTA. I spent five years serving on the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy and was twice a delegate to the FSMTB. I’m the author of Heart of Bodywork, the Ethics column of ABMP’s Massage & Bodywork Magazine and the author of numerous books. Most are massage related; a few are on other topics, including one on the state of healthcare in every nation in the world.
I spent 13 years as a clinic owner employing a chiropractor, numerous massage therapists, a naturopath, an acupuncturist, an esthetician, and at various times, other practitioners. I closed it in 2016 when my deceased husband, Champ Allen, was sick. I spent three years working as the Massage Division Director of Soothing Touch, the massage product company, and for a little over a year, I have been working for CryoDerm, the pain relief, and massage product company. They are a family-owned company located in FL; I live in NC. I am fortunate to get to work from home. I was recently promoted to President of Sales & Marketing there.
I have also maintained a very small client list for massage that I see in a local spa, usually about 6-8 clients per month. I am not seeing anyone at this time, and don’t intend to until I can be sure it’s safe to do so. I don’t know when that will be. None of us do. I am practicing social distancing and as close to self-quarantine as I can get. My mother, who lives a few miles away from me, is 81, in compromised health, and needs help at times, so I will continue to go there as needed. She has a home health care aid most days. I will run the necessary errands to keep her from going out. Otherwise, my husband James Clayton (I remarried last year) and I are staying at home with our dogs. Even my brother, who lives directly behind me, and I are maintaining 6 feet between each other. He was injured in a serious accident last year, has had 7 surgeries as a result of that, and has implanted antibiotics. James is a two-time cancer survivor who has had a lot of chemo and radiation, which does a whammy on the immune system, so I certainly don’t want to bring anything home to him.
I wish you all the best in these trying times and I hope you all remain well.