HAMBURG, N.Y. (WKBW) — Contrary to perception, massage is not just for relaxation. Many people in WNY count on medical massage to help control chronic pain caused by car accidents, injuries, disease and surgery - but many of those patients are now suffering as massage therapy is not considered an essential business during the Covid-19 crisis.
"It is debilitating for people. They are crying They are in pain and need us," said Lisa Plaster, a licensed massage therapist and owner of Advanced Massage Therapy in Hamburg. Plaster said she gets calls daily from her patients looking for help in managing their pain without having to resort to opioid pain killers.
Advanced Massage Therapy has around 175 clients with about 90% of them having a prescription from local doctors to use medical massage to control their pain.
"It is just very hard to deal . . . very hard to live," said one of Plaster's patients with a lower spine injury who spoke with 7 Eyewitness New Reporter Ed Reilly.
Massage therapy is shut down under the 'NY on Pause' Executive Order from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Plaster said she understood the shutdown at first, but when chiropractors were allowed to operate, she wondered why medical massage therapists could not? "Chiropractors will often do a massage before they do an adjustment, but there are a lot people who can't go to a chiropractor," said Plaster.
The massage therapist feels she can operate safely using masks, gloves, and temperature checks. She has tried multiple times to get a waiver from Empire State Development to open. "I have sent in an application just about daily and I haven't heard anything yet."
Adding to her frustrations, Lisa Plaster has been unable to get her unemployment benefits, since she closed on March 9th, or talk with anyone in the NYS Department of Labor about it. "There was one day where I called 48-times. It either hangs up on you, or disconnects, or it just tells you it is busy."
Making things even more confusing, Plaster is unable to get an answer on which phase of reopening in NY will include medical massage therapy. "You mandated that we shut down but you are not helping us. I almost feel like we have been forgotten," added the exasperated small business owner.
7 Eyewitness News contacted both the NYS Department of Labor and Empire State Development about her situation. The Labor Department responded saying it would look into Plaster's claim for unemployment benefits.
Empire State Development sent Ch7 the following reply:
"Currently, under the essential business guidance, massage therapy is considered non-essential. Businesses should continue to check the website https://forward.ny.gov/ [forward.ny.gov] to determine when their particular business will be able to open in their region. Empire State Development has received tens of thousands of inquiries requesting guidance on essential business and are working around the clock to answer them as quickly as possible."