| Jonathan Gerhardson
AGAWAM — Several existing businesses would have to undergo professional training and licensing under a proposed ordinance being debated by the Agawam Board of Health.
The board is considering whether to recommend that the City Council adopt an ordinance subjecting “bodywork therapists” to similar requirements as massage parlors, which are regulated by state law. Board of Health member Lauren Kennedy said she believes four businesses in Agawam woud be affected.
Under Massachusetts law, a massage is defined as being performed for the purpose of “demonstrating muscle excursion or muscle flexibility and nonspecific stretching.” Under the law, massage therapists must undergo a minimum of 650 hours of training, and pass a state exam. On average, a licensed massage therapist can make about $43 per hour, according to Indeed.com.
State law does not apply these requirements to bodywork spas, however. These workers use “touch, words or directed movement to deepen awareness of patterns of movement in the body, or the affectation of the human energy system or acupoints or Qi meridians,” but they may not call the work they do “massage” or refer to themselves as “massage therapists.”
The Board of Health has not yet finalized the language of its proposed ordinance, but members said they hope to bring the matter to City Council in October. New regulations could include licensure with the Board of Health, a mandatory 500-hour training course for practitioners, and a prohibition on having a “bath or shower” on the premises.
The state law specifically mentions alternative medicines like Ayurveda or Reiki as examples of bodywork that is exempt from massage regulations. Board of Health members, however, are concerned that local bodywork businesses are stretching the definition of their craft.
At the Sept. 14 Board of Health meeting, Town Solicitor Stephen Buoniconti said that investigations by the town’s Police Department, the Health Department, and the building inspector, found that “there are real massages taking place, and that there are physical touchings that are going on inside these establishments.”
Nothing in the state law precludes “touching” per se, but Kennedy said the proposed ordinance is necessary to provide similar oversight to bodyworks practitioners as there is for massage therapists, if they are performing similar services.
She told Reminder Publishing after the meeting that increased oversight might also avert incidents such as one in March where a manager at Zenergy Spa, one of the bodywork practitioners in Agawam, was charged with kidnapping. The criminal compliant alleged that the victim was forced to live in a back room and locked inside while working there. The spa’s owner said the employee locked themself in the room after being fired.