City's 'antiquated' code hinders patient treatment

Outcall massage
By: Melody Stone, Journal staff writer
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In Auburn a strict massage ordinance is preventing bed-ridden patients from receiving massage therapy, but the city is looking into ways to address the issue. Auburn City Attorney Michael G. Colantuono said he’s not aware of a city that doesn’t have a massage ordinance regulating the service. “Massage has been a front for prostitution for as long as the oldest profession has existed,” Colantuono said. “Traditionally out-call services were prohibited because they were the hardest to keep a bright light on.” Auburn City Planner Reg Murray said a massage therapist applied for a business license to provide home massage therapy. When city staff reviewed the application an old ordinance prohibiting call-out massage services surfaced. The applicant was Julie Warner “It’s an antiquated ordinance. It’s 37 years old and the city recognizes it’s an old ordinance,” Murray said. “We are currently in the process of updating it.” The issue came before the planning commission who decided to interpret the ordinance to allow for services rendered by therapists connected with a hospice or hospital or for medical reasons. Planning Commissioner Bob Snyder said Auburn could loosen up restrictions on massage therapists. His father is bed-ridden and cannot legally get a massage in his home even with a doctor’s recommendation. Murray said on March 16 the planning commission determined Warner could conduct her business within Auburn residents' homes. “Based on that interpretation and the authority the planning commission has the individual can operate,” Murray said. “There are other home-care-type services this would be very similar, it seemed practical to extend that to massage services.” Warner said she was surprised to discover she couldn’t provide hospice patients in-home massage. “It just seemed like a very antiquated ordinance," Warner said. She’s happy the planning commission decided to make an exception for her business, but she’s not sure she’s going to go through with the plan since the non-profit she worked for went under. "I had a need and I asked for it and I was surprised they went through and passed it,” Warner said. “I was very happy they would listen to someone like me about this." Victoria Threlkel is the supervisor of Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice. She discovered the call-out massage restriction when one of her volunteer hospice massage therapists, Warner, applied for a business license in Auburn. Threlkel said her organization had to stop offering massage services to patients within the city limits, even though massage is calming and reduces stress and anxiety often found in end of life. “Hospice patients and their families just need that extra touch and comfort,” Threlkel said. Threlkel said she had a patient whose house was half in the city and half in the county. Thereapists only did massage in the part of the house within the county. While the law might seem silly and old-fashioned Colantuono said the sex trade hiding behind massage parlors isn’t too far off. “There is a serious problem with massage parlors as fronts for prostitution not too far away from us,” Colantuono said. He said the problem thrives in urban areas and often involves human trafficking. City staff is currently looking at revising the ordinance, which will go before the planning commission and if approved will go before the City Council for a final decision.