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Different deconfinement approaches spark calls for change in Quebec massage industry

Coronavirus: West Island massage therapist calls for more regulation in industry
As Quebec lifts coronavirus restrictions and people return to work, a West Island massage therapist is sounding the alarm about the association that certified her. Global's Dan Spector reports.

A West Island massage therapist is sounding the alarm about the association that certified her, and calling on Quebec to bring more regulation to the massage industry.

Julia Turcotte has been a massage therapist in the West Island for over ten years. Like many other businesses, hers was brought to a grinding halt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She decided to seek help from the Commission des praticiens en médecine douce du Québec (CPMDQ), the association that certifies her.

West Island massage therapist shocked by lack of support from the organization that certified her
West Island massage therapist shocked by lack of support from the organization that certified her

“This is a professional order that I deal with and was hoping for some professional advice,” she told Global News.

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In mid-March, Turcotte told CPMDQ vice-president Brigitte Girard she was thinking about closing her business due to financial stress, and asked if Girard had any information that might help.

In her response, Girard referred to concerns about the novel coronavirus as a lie, saying she does not believe the virus is any worse than H1N1 or SARS.

“Hopefully when this craziness stops people will stop believing this lie, go back to their senses and their normal lives. I don’t believe that people will buy into this nonsense very long,” read Girard’s email to Turcotte on March 17.

It was not the response Turcotte had been hoping for.

“I was hoping for anything pertaining to my business, not that the coronavirus didn’t exist,” Turcotte told Global News.

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Over the course of the pandemic, the CPMDQ Facebook page has shared posts about the virus flagged as false and partially false information by Facebook, and YouTube links that have been removed because they didn’t meet the website’s quality standards.

“I’m just kind of dumbfounded and not supported for my profession, especially coming back to work,” Turcotte said.

Massage therapists have been allowed to open since June 1, and she had hoped to get some guidance.

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The CPMDQ provided her a link to the government deconfinement plan, but Turcotte said there has been no other support.

Another such organization, the Association Québécoise des thérapeutes naturels (AQTN), has held question-and-answer sessions for members on Zoom, with infection control experts.

They’ve published their own list of recommendations, and created posters massage therapists can print out.

“We felt the need to go up and beyond simply understanding or going through the recommendations from the different levels of the government,” explained Mark Balchunas, a spokesperson for the AQTN.

READ MORE: 2 Calgary massage businesses ticketed for reopening too soon amid COVID-19 pandemic

The AQTN also chose to refund all its members two months of membership fees for the time they were not working. When Turcotte asked the CPMDQ for her membership fee back because of what she called the lack of support and professionalism, she was told there would be no refunds.

“When I kind of brought up these worries and feelings of being unsupported by my association, she decided to call me and berate me with name-calling,” Turcotte said, referring to Girard.

In an email to Global News, Girard accused Turcotte of being more concerned about her fee being refunded than anything else. She called her a liar, and denied being disrespectful to Turcotte. She accused Turcotte of defamation, and provided links to the government’s deconfinement plan.

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“I am shopping for a different association that would better reflect my my professionalism,” said Turcotte.

Her friend Amanda Amaroso is part of yet another association, the AMQ.

“The AMQ sent us emails, and they were really on top of it,” Amaroso said.

Health providers in Ontario preparing to reopen
Health providers in Ontario preparing to reopen

She was able to share some guidelines with Turcotte, and connect her with other massage therapists through a Facebook group she administrates.

“Both therapist and client will be wearing a mask. We have to change our clothes in between each client, obviously, the sheets. We have to disinfect all the tables, the door handles, a lot of disinfecting,” explained Turcotte.

Both massage therapists wish the industry had its own official professional order, saying massage therapists have nobody to complain to if something goes wrong with one of the industry’s many associations.

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Quebec’s Office des professions, which administrates Quebec’s different professional orders, told Global News there is no desire in the government to create a professional massage therapists’ order at this time.

According to spokesperson Jacques Nadeau, the office considered the idea in 2015, but concluded there would be no real benefit to the public.

If massage therapists are not in an association, their clients can’t be reimbursed by their insurance provider.

“Insurers will continue to examine and determine whether receipts from the various Quebec massage therapy and naturopathy associations will be reimbursed under the terms of their policies,” said Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association spokesperson Dominique Biron-Bordeleau, when asked about Turcotte’s experience with the CPMDQ.

Brigitte Girard declined to be interviewed, saying she needs to help her members with the government guidelines.