By Noor Adatia
BU News Service
BOSTON — Owners of various healing practices in Massachusetts say they could be forced to shut down their businesses if a bill to regulate their parlors and require them to take hours of expensive training classes becomes law.
Over the past years, many of these businesses — including several in Northampton — have come under scrutiny after authorities learned of illicit sexual activity taking place inside “bodyworks spas” in exchange for money.
Many practitioners testified at the Legislature’s Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure hearing this week to oppose the passage of the bill (S.168) and explained the importance of their health systems, which include qi gong and reiki.
Effie Chow, a qi gong instructor, said that much of Western medicine isn’t as fast or effective as some of the Chinese alternatives. Qi gong is a traditional Chinese practice that combines gentle movements with mental concentration.
Four years ago, Chow went through intensive surgery that left her crippled and without a voice. She attributes her recovery to the practice of qi gong, which she said is a “way of life.”
“It’s not just medicine; it’s a health practice,” Chow, 86, said. “I was given up for dead in 2015, and I’m very much alive right now because of this.”
Robert Nelson, who runs a reiki practice in Northampton at the senior center, offers free sessions each month to people suffering from cancer.
“This bill would tremendously reduce health care options,” Nelson said. “It would put most, if not all, reiki practitioners out of business.”
He pointed out what he described as a Catch-22 related to the bill’s requirement for practitioners to become licensed at state schools, which currently do not offer courses for the majority of these healing modalities.
He said that in 2016, Cooley Dickinson Hospital hired a reiki practitioner to treat patients in the cancer unit.
“Would he be able to continue his practice that the hospital wanted?” Nelson said.
Police offers from various cities testified in support of the bill. Woburn Police Lt. Brian McManus said he has worked undercover to bring charges of human trafficking against 16 people.
“We found deplorable conditions where these people are forced to live where they work,” McManus said referring to sex workers. “It’s no way for someone to live.”
McManus said it is key to have support from other agencies like the Department of Professional Licensure to help crack down on these illicit businesses.
State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, received applause from the crowd after asking the police officers about how solo practitioners, many of whom are in her district, could facilitate human trafficking.
“I’m not sure why they should be subject to something that is fighting human trafficking when there’s no possibility of that happening in their practices,” Domb said.
Beth Keeley, who works in the human trafficking division under the state attorney general, said her office has seen countless cases of these practices facilitating prostitution.
Traffickers are able to avoid detection from state officials by establishing illicit bodyworks businesses that are actually fronts for human trafficking, Keeley explained.
“We see so many of these cases because it’s a low-risk proposition,” she said.
The goal of this bill, according to the AG’s office, is to provide licensing officials resources to shut down illicit establishments and support law-abiding ones.
She said the office intends to submit a redraft that would address concerns from practitioners heard at the hearing and in other discussions.
“We do not want to burden legitimate practitioners with arduous training and education requirements or redefine industry standards for their modalities,” Keeley said.
This article was originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.