While the therapists who give massages to Manitobans may have been surprised when the province told them they could resume seeing clients on Monday, the professionals who check eyes or help with range of motion weren't.

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While the therapists who give massages to Manitobans may have been surprised when the province told them they could resume seeing clients on Monday, the professionals who check eyes or help with range of motion weren't.

The same provincial announcement this week that, with restrictions, allows Manitobans to dine at an outdoor patio, get their hair cut, and shop for shoes starting Monday, is also allowing many health-care professionals to begin practising again.

Tricia Weidenbacher, executive director of the Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba: "It wasn't something we were prepared for."

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Tricia Weidenbacher, executive director of the Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba: "It wasn't something we were prepared for."

But massage therapists represented by the Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba only learned on Wednesday – the same day it was publicly announced – their profession could begin giving treatment again. That's when Premier Brian Pallister listed various services and professions that could reopen as part of a graduated restarting of the province after all non-essential services had been closed for seven weeks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"We were shocked," Tricia Weidenbacher, executive director of the massage association, said Friday. The association represents about half of the estimated 1,800 massage therapists in the province.

"It wasn't something we were prepared for. We had been reaching out for information. A five-minute phone call would have been good."

Weidenbacher said it will take time for many massage therapists to get ready to follow the provincial guidelines that allow them to begin taking clients again, but still limit the spread of COVID-19. These include screening staff for the coronavirus before accepting appointments, having customers wait outside in their vehicle before their appointment or be physically distanced in the waiting room, sanitizing service areas between each client, and removing magazines from waiting areas.

As well, Weidenbacher said it may take time for many to get the gloves and masks they will need and, initially, not all types of therapy may be done.

"Sometimes we have to work right inside the cheek - we will not be offer that right now," she said.

"It won't be the majority (of massage therapists) coming back on Monday. Massage therapists in Saskatchewan are coming back on May 19, and we were planning for that date or later."

Weidenbacher said the issue shows once again why the massage therapy profession needs to be guided by a regulatory body under the Regulated Health Professions Act. It's something the organization has been working on, but the province said in 2018, the association was still in a three-to-five-years long line. Earlier this year, a provincial spokeswoman said six other professions, including psychology, physiotherapy, and licensed practical nursing, were still ahead of them in line.

Meanwhile, Tanya Dillon, president of the Manitoba Association of Optometrists, said her 185 members are ready and willing to open their doors on Monday for people wanting their eyes checked.

"We didn't know the exact date, but we have been in discussion with the government," Dillon said.

"We did know it was coming and we've been actively preparing for the possibility."

Dillon said her members already have supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) because, while they were restricted in seeing regular patients the last few weeks, they continued to see emergency patients.

"There were eye infections, retinal tears," she said. "Now we will be open for routine appointments.

"But it will not be business as usual. There will be spacing of appointments, PPE being worn, and increased disinfection... but we're excited to get back to providing the services as needed."

Jim Hayes, executive director of the Manitoba Physiotherapy Association, said while their members are ready to go back to work to help Manitobans, they could be delayed in getting the personal protective equipment they need to do it safely for them as well as their clients.

"There is close proximity and we see people for longer than 10 minutes," Hayes said.

"We don't need N-95 masks, but we do need masks and gloves as well as cleaning and sanitizing equipment ... so it will be a slower opening for the non-emergent."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

 

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
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Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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