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September 16, 2014

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Reflexology clinics face new regulatory pressure

County sees proposed rules as way to stem illegal practices in unscrupulous operations

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L.E. Baskow

Wendy Dearborne is a reflexologist with the Adassa James Institute on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014.

Reflexologist Wendy Dearborne

Wendy Dearborne, a reflexologist with the Adassa James Institute, works on a foot Friday , Jan. 17, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Despite being a close relative of the highly regulated massage-therapy industry, reflexology clinics have operated below the regulatory radar of Clark County for decades.

Opening a reflexology clinic requires a basic business license from the county, but no background checks or education certifications — requirements in the massage-therapy industry — are necessary.

This low bar to entry and lax regulatory environment has led to an increase in illegal activity, including prostitution at businesses billing themselves as reflexology clinics, say county commissioners and some reflexology clinic owners. Other complaints include questionable operators performing services outside of accepted reflexology guidelines and scamming customers with misleading pricing.

Generally, reflexology is the application of pressure to specific points in the feet, hands or ears to achieve a range of health benefits.

The recurring problems surrounding reflexology clinics have drawn the eye of county officials, who have been working on new regulations for the industry for the past year. The proposed changes, scheduled to go to vote before the county commission next month, would create a new chapter in county code specifically addressing reflexology clinics while adding several requirements that mirror the massage-therapy industry.

The proposed requirements include a background check, a reflexology certification from a licensed school and limited hours of operation.

The new rules are intended to weed out unscrupulous operators while ensuring that customers receive services from properly trained reflexologists.

“There are issues within the business. You have good players and bad players,” Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said. “What is a reflexologist? What type of training do you have to have? It’s about those types of things. If I’m going to get my feet massaged, I want to make sure it’s by someone who knows what they’re doing and know what the safety precautions are and what the price is.”

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The walls of Wendy Dearborne’s third-floor office are lined with diplomas and other certificates that speak to her extensive history practicing reflexology and other therapies.

A reflexologist for more than 20 years after studying the practice in England, Dearborne said she’s glad the county was considering adding a tougher threshold for reflexology clinics.

“Up until this point, anybody could hang up a shingle and say that they are a reflexologist,” Dearborne said. “I’m 100 percent behind (regulating reflexology clinics) because it validates what I do to the public at large. It gives us more legitimacy, which has been part of the problem.”

Dearborne said when properly practiced, reflexology could help people deal with ailments ranging from insomnia to chronic back pain to stress.

Reflexology stimulates neural pathways to the brain that help the body maintain itself through the application of pressure to specific points in the foot or hand that correspond to other parts of the body, Dearborne says.

“We don’t heal, we don’t cure. It helps the body help itself,” she said.

Still the specter of added regulation has some businesses worried about added cost and hassle while not addressing the core issue of illicit activity at a limited number of businesses.

“The regulations sound realistic on paper, as if all we had to do was get a reflexology license and prostitution would be solved. That’s just a bunch of baloney,” said Heidi Anderson, president of the Nevada Holistic Chamber of Commerce and the Angel Blessings Spa, which leases space to a variety of practitioners, including reflexologists. “Everything they need to enforce prostitution laws is already in place.”

Anderson said the new regulations would hamper businesses already operating legitimately, while questionable outfits would continue to ignore the law. Reflexologists already operate on thin margins and don’t need the added regulatory burden, she said.

“They’re wasting our resources,” she said.

One lingering concern is how limits on hours of operations, which would require businesses to close at midnight, would affect clinics that cater to casino workers on the swing shift.

Commissioner Mary Beth Scow said she’s optimistic a solution could be worked out that would allow "clean" businesses to stay open for extended hours. She said she thought the proposed regulations struck a fair balance that would help legitimate businesses while protecting customer safety.

“I think the people that are doing what they should be are in support of this,” she said. “They’re the ones who treat a lot of casino workers and are running a legitimate business.”

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