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Rochester council reviews proposal for added massage therapy oversight

Proposed ordinance change would implement an annual inspection in an effort to ensure massage therapy license holders are meeting city expectations.

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ROCHESTER — A proposal to increase oversight of Rochester’s licensed massage therapists and related businesses met with mixed support Monday.

“I would generally support this,” Rochester City Council member Patrick Keane said of a proposal to require annual inspections of licensed businesses.

With approximately 35 licensed massage therapy businesses and 140 therapists in the city, Rochester’s license examiner, Christiaan Cartwright, said the primary goal of the proposed ordinance changes is to better define expectations for local businesses that don’t have state-level oversight.

Not all businesses that offer massages are licensed by the city. Cartwright said cosmetology businesses and medical providers have state-level oversight and inspections, so they are monitored by specific boards.

It’s the businesses that primarily offer massages outside those areas that are subject to city-level licensing.

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‘There’s a gap at the state level,” Cartwright said, pointing out that cosmetologists and tattoo parlors have state boards that set operational and sanitary guidelines.

The decision on whether similar guidelines are enforced for massage therapists is up to individual cities.

Rochester adopted its first ordinance providing oversight of massage therapy businesses in 2012. While authorizing inspections of businesses, the ordinance is vague on the requirements for maintaining a license.

Cartwright said proposed ordinance changes would seek to define expectations, including facilities and procedures for cleaning rooms and equipment.

The change would come with the addition of an annual inspection, with Olmsted County Public Health serving as a partner in the process.

New annual reviews of businesses offering massage therapy are being implemented to help crack down on illicit activity without targeting victims.

Council member Shaun Palmer said the lack of state oversight points to a lack of need for the added requirements and the ordinance changes could lead to a false sense of security for some customers, since all businesses don't fall under city oversight.

“I would rather see us repeal it and get rid of it,” he said of the current ordinance, noting that complaints that typically lead to further investigation don’t revolve around sanitary practices.

Cartwright said less than 10 complaints have been received this year, but last year two therapists and two businesses saw their licenses revoked following a police investigation, which led to public council reviews.

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Council member Nick Campion said the proposed approach is a good step toward separating the administrative concerns from criminal concerns.

“An administrative violation is much different than a criminal violation,” he said, noting that past council discussions have confused the two issues.

Cartwright said the proposed changes could allow the city to suspend licenses more quickly based on administrative concerns, rather than waiting for a criminal investigation to play out. If illegal activity is discovered in the process, he said that would be dealt with by the police department and county attorney’s office.

Olmsted County public health and victims services advocates obtained county commissioners’ support in November to work with the city to provide a the higher level of review, pointing out the process could unearth activity linked to human trafficking.

Sagar Chowdhury, associate director of Olmsted County Public Health, said the new approach would help identify businesses partaking in illicit practices, while also reducing the potential harm to victims of human trafficking, who often end up in the center of sting operations and other investigations.

Chowdhury said county staff have started conducting unannounced inspections based on current license requirements and authorizations.

If a business ends up facing a suspension based under the proposed new criteria, Cartwright said the ordinance changes would provide a path for appeal that would be less public than the current requirement for City Council review.

If the business owner or therapist doesn’t like the outcome of the appeal, they could seek a council review, which could be followed by a court appeal.

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Rochester City Attorney Michael Spindler-Krage said the legal concerns would continue to be studied and addressed by city and county officials, which would include attorneys, law enforcement representatives and staff connected licensing and inspections.

“This is a broad and challenging topic,” he said.

Council member Molly Dennis joined Keane and Campion is supporting the proposal, but council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said she thinks the proposed ordinance change needs to be tweaked to better define expectations.

Council President Brooke Carlson and council member Mark Bransford didn’t voice specific stances on the proposal.

Cartwright said the proposed ordinance changes could be presented to the council next week or during a meeting in January.


What happened: The Rochester City Council reviewed options for oversight of licensed massage therapy businesses in the city during an afternoon study session Monday.

Why does this matter: The Rochester city ordinance that addresses the licensing of massage therapy businesses allows for limited authority regarding sanitary inspections, and a change would allow increased oversight in coordination with Olmsted County Public Health.

What's next: A potential ordinance change will be presented to the council during a regular meeting for an official vote.


Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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