Touching up the law for massage therapists

By Anna Harris (File photo)

Until city officials relaxed rules governing massage therapists earlier this month, getting by as a hands-on worker could prove challenging.

The old regulations — updated by city council during an October 19 meeting — forced massage therapists to hold state and municipal licenses to operate in Alexandria. The revamped ordinance drops the local requirement, which officials increasingly saw as excessive.

“The city thought that public health was appropriately protected by state licensure and didn’t need both,” said Mary O’Donnell, assistant city attorney. “The burden on the business community outweighed the benefits of double regulations. … The intent [behind the change] was to reduce regulatory requirements while still maintaining public health.”

Not only was licensing massage therapists locally unnecessary, according to O’Donnell, but complicated. Therapists paid annual fees on both licenses.

And, because the ordinance carried regulations designed to thwart prostitution, home visits were effectively banned in Alexandria.

Adding to the confusion, the local definition of massage therapy did not match up with the state’s description, leaving a few entrepreneurs in regulatory limbo.

The changes also made life easier for the officials charged with enforcing them. Issuing licenses ate up about 260 work hours each year, according to the city health department.

The city will save roughly $2,800 by removing the regulations. While fees brought in about $4,200 annually, running the program cost around $7,000 each year.

Dan Melmed, owner and founder of Body Well, is applauding the reforms. His business relies on home-based and hotel massage sessions, and when he learned about Alexandria’s onerous regulations, he spearheaded the effort to change them.

“They [were] putting time and funds into the regulation of massage therapists,” Melmed said. “The resources can be better used in other ways.”
And making the changes paints City Hall in a better light.

“It reflects well on the city’s image in general to have repealed longstanding ordinances that were not fair to proud health care professionals,” he said. “So I think, as far as the city’s image goes, it’s a sign that this is a progressive city that isn’t stuck in the past. It’s become a more business-friendly city, too.”

And Melmed is confident that the community only stands to benefit as residents, hotels, visitors and massage therapists learn about the relaxed regulations.

“I’m thankful to the council for making a good decision and helping to move this forward,” Melmed said. “As massage therapists and residents begin to realize these changes, it’s going to benefit more and more people. It’s very exciting, and I’m really pleased with the council and the actions they took on this ordinance.”

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