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Physiotherapy clinic disputes denying service to HIV positive client

A Kingston resident says a massage therapist at a local clinic insisted on wearing gloves because he’s HIV positive, clinic says it was a misunderstanding
WATCH: A physiotherapy clinic is denying that a massage therapist insisted on wearing gloves when they found out the client was HIV positive

HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS) Kingston has released information about an alleged incident, claiming a local massage therapist “denied service” to a patient who was HIV positive but virally suppressed on unreasonable grounds.

According to a news release sent out by HARS on Thursday, a person who they did not name attended Blaser’s Family Physio in Kingston looking for a massage, but once they disclosed they had HIV, they were told the massage therapist would be using gloves.

“While HARS does not dispute that a practitioner may deny service for any reason, the grounds for denying service in this instance are not based on fact, and only serves to reinforce HIV stigma and cause individuals to be fearful of disclosing their HIV status,” the news release from HARS read.

“This individual disclosed their HIV positive status, and the fact that they are virally suppressed, which is also referred to as having an ‘undetectable viral load,'” the HARS news release continued.

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According to Health Canada, having an undetectable viral load means a person has a “negligible risk of transmitting the infection,” even through direct sexual contact.

The news release goes on to say the massage therapist told the client she would be “wearing gloves to perform the massage so as not to contract HIV.”

Global News has spoken with that client, Chris Bachand-Lauko, who is also a staff member at HARS, who said the experience “traumatized” him.

“I felt belittled. I felt ashamed. I felt just like… I felt like dirt,” Bachand-Lauko told Global News.  

Bachand-Lauko says he is very open about being HIV positive, which he has been for over 20 years.

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He claims that when he disclosed being HIV positive to Blaser’s Family Physio, his massage therapist told him she would be wearing gloves to prevent getting HIV from micro-abrasions. As Bachand-Lauko describes it, micro-abrasions are small tears in the skin that develop with rough contact, but micro-abrasion is better known as a type of dentistry that removes a small amount of dental enamel to improve teeth whiteness.

“I just kept on hearing, HIV and micro-abrasions, and that she was going to wear gloves to proceed with the massage. And again in my mind I’m thinking, ‘you cannot get HIV from touch, no matter even if I was detectable,'” Bachand-Lauko said.

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Steve Brown, president and owner of Family Physiotherapy Centres based out of Ottawa, is denying HARS’ and Bachand-Lauko’s claims. Brown says the massage therapist, whose name he would not disclose, told Bachand-Lauko she needed to wear gloves because she had a cut on her hand. Brown says it’s the company policy to wear gloves when a staff member has an open sore.

He said the massage therapist had also worn gloves for previous patients that day because of the cut.

“This day she had a cut on her finger and used gloves for all her patients she treated as that is the policy from her regulating college. She can’t treat any other way or risk losing her license,” Brown said in an emailed statement.

Brown also emphasized that Blaser’s Family Physio has been treating HIV patients glove-free for years.

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“We do not have a HIV/Aids stigma whatsoever or any policy in place that would treat our AIDS patients any differently then any other patient.”

Both Brown and Bachand-Lauko describe an incident after the two had the disagreement about the gloves, but they describe it differently.

Bachand-Lauko claims he was embarrassed and humiliated in front of other clients as he was leaving, when he was told the massage therapist had a right to deny service to anyone they chose.

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Brown claimed that Bachand-Lauko yelled at staff as he left, and stayed outside the clinic for hours after the incident.

“The patient even lingered outside the clinic long after his outburst resulting in our staff feeling uncomfortable and needing an escort to go to their cars,” Brown wrote in an email.

Bachand-Lauko expressively denied that claim, saying he may have stayed a few minutes because he was upset, but left shortly afterwards.

Bachand-Lauko also denies ever being told the massage therapist had a cut on her finger.

“She never explained to me she had a cut. She just explained to me about micro abrasions, HIV and she’s wearing gloves for her protection.”

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HARS is now refusing to comment any further on the situation, saying they are consulting legal counsel. Brown said he has sent a letter to HARS asking for an apology, but he has yet to receive a response.