The Blog to Transform Advanced Care

Advancing Care through Innovation, Observation and Collaboration.

There are many ways to provide compassionate care for people living with serious illness. Healwell offers this relief through massage therapy, having built a team of highly skilled practitioners, thinkers, researchers, business leaders and other humans who are dedicated to providing comfort when it is needed most.

The Healwell team is also exploring the world of massage therapy through Massage Therapy Without Borders, a podcast hosted by Healwell Executive Director Lauren “Cal” Cates, LMT, and author and educator Cathy Ryan, RMT. We caught up with Cal and Cathy to learn more about the role of massage therapy in serious illness care and how this work has evolved in the time of COVID-19.

C-TAC’s mission is to ensure a high quality of life for those living with serious illness. How do you think massage therapy can play a role in improving quality of life for people facing serious illness?

Cal Cates, LMT and Cathy Ryan, RMT: Properly adapted massage therapy provided by a well-trained, present practitioner can be an incredibly valuable adjunct to the usual interventions considered in mainstream care. Massage therapists with training in caring for people with serious illness bring together the skill of thoughtful, experienced hands with attentive communication and curiosity that can attend to the multiple layers of human experience that influence quality of life. Loneliness, isolation, pain, uncertainty, exhaustion, to name just a few, are all aspects of serious illness that can be ameliorated by massage therapy. The value of massage therapy for family caregivers cannot be overstated either. We often see a beautiful symbiosis of relaxation when we have the opportunity to work with a caregiver and we can see the caregiver’s relaxation result in greater calm for the patient.

We’ve seen a spike in remote care via telehealth as people stay home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. How have massage therapists adjusted to deliver care during the pandemic?

CC and CR: Massage therapy cannot reasonably be delivered while observing physical distancing guidelines. There are widely varying opinions in the profession in terms of whether or not it is safe to provide massage therapy “when COVID-19 is active in your community.” Many therapists are working, but with adapted protocols for intake, waiting rooms and disinfection procedures, in addition to PPE for themselves and masks for clients. Some therapists have opted to wait either for a measurable and lasting abatement in infection rates, for a vaccine or for some as yet unspecified change in the landscape.

In terms of hospital-based massage therapy, it’s also a mixed bag. Many hospitals are still struggling to provide adequate PPE for their frontline providers and are being forced to hold off on resuming massage therapy services until they have enough PPE to adequately protect the therapists who would provide it.

It’s also important to note that massage therapy in hospital settings is still very much a “nice to have” in terms of budgeting. COVID-19 has hit hospitals’ bottom lines hard. This is likely to result in the discontinuation of many hospital-based massage therapy programs as hospitals have to shunt that money to basic operations and other service lines that feel more important.

And yes, some therapists are providing video consults to existing clients to “tide them over” until they feel safe to have face-to-face sessions again, but that’s not massage therapy. That’s something a bit more like coaching that loses the value conferred by direct interaction and touch from/by another human.

How can organizations like C-TAC support your work? What types of policy changes would make it easier for you to provide care for your clients?

CC and CR: There are many massage therapists who do not consider themselves healthcare providers and who, quite frankly, don’t have the necessary skills to make a value-added contribution to the experience of people affected by serious illness.

The most valuable thing C-TAC’s members could do to support the meaningful integration of massage therapy into serious illness care is to work with us to establish standards of education and practice that are relevant to the patients you serve and to the improvement of outcomes for those patients and their caregivers.

Healwell works to educate massage therapists in a way that will build the healthcare workforce by adding highly skilled massage therapists who can work side-by-side with allied health clinicians to improve the experience of illness. We’d love to talk with you about how to set a high bar that will lead to careers in serious illness care for skilled massage therapists.

C-TAC is focused on connecting community organizations and services to drive change on a local level. What advice would you like to share with community groups or providers who are caring for people with serious illness and would like to incorporate massage therapy into the services they provide?

CC and CR: We see the writing on the wall. Healthcare is moving back into patients’ homes, back to the community. Healwell is ready and able to support patients and care teams in the community and in patients’ homes throughout the DC metro area. We are ready to train therapists in other areas of the country and the world to bring this valuable intervention to the people who need it most. Massage therapy has historically been a “luxury” service. We want to change that and make it a standard aspect of chronic and serious illness care and prevention. Reach out to us. Let’s talk about how we can work together to make better days for patients and families.

We’re proud to count Healwell as a member of our Coalition. To learn more about their work, please click here. For more information about C-TAC’s members, click here. We also encourage you to listen to their podcast, Massage Therapy Without Borders! Make sure you don’t miss an episode by subscribing via iTunes or Spreaker.

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