• What To Do When Your Wellness Provider is Unwell

    Unwell provider

    I’ll admit it. This is a pet peeve of mine. When I walk into a wellness center or wellness practitioner’s office and I’m met with a coughing, sniffling, sneezing, stuffy-headed, nose-blowing provider I’m put off. A lot.

    Because Science

    I can’t help but ask myself, “how is this obviously sick person going to help me either maintain or regain my health?” My answer is always a swift and emphatic, “They’re not.” There is no way in hell that being shut up in a small room with a sick person is going to do anything positive for my health.

    The odds of catching a contagious disease like a cold or the flu increases with both the proximity to the sick person as well as the amount of time spent with them. So… shut me in a small room for an hour with a sick massage therapist (for instance) who’s going to be touching me for an entire hour and my chance of getting sick skyrockets. *Cough*

    I’ll pass on the germ buffet, but thanks anyway. I’ll bet you’re not interested in catching the latest crud, either.

    Ethics Be Damned?

    I might piss off a few providers by saying this, but it is a HUGE ethics violation to work on clients when we’re sick. The first rule for wellness providers is: Do No Harm. A provider who risks a client’s health by working when they’re sick violates this fundamental principal. In fact, it’s written into the code of ethics for Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) as well as the code of ethics for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and  Bodywork (NCBTMB). While neither of them strictly forbids working when sick, here is what they do say [emphasis/italics mine]:

    • I recognize that the obligation for building and maintaining an effective, healthy, and safe therapeutic relationship with my clients is my responsibility. (ABMP)
    • Commitment to Do No Harm – I understand the importance of ethical touch and therapeutic intent and will conduct sessions with the sole objective of benefitting the client. (ABMP)
    • Have a sincere commitment to provide the highest quality of care to those who seek their professional services. (NCBTMB)
    • Provide treatment only where there is reasonable expectation that it will be advantageous to the client. (NCBTMB)

    What Possesses Some People?

    I’ve been in the wellness field now for over a dozen years and I hear 3 reasons cited time and again for why providers work while their sick:

    1. I need the money. – I get it. Really. Most wellness providers are self-employed, and therefore don’t get paid sick days. Most employees in the wellness field don’t get paid sick days either. Ultimately, this is a fear response. And fear of not being able to pay bills can cause many people to do things they’d rather not. I used to be in this camp, myself. But I’ve come to realize that if I’m willing to risk my clients health by working when I’m sick, they’ll be willing to infect me by coming in when they’re sick. Plus, I won’t have an ethical leg to stand on if I want to have a policy that encourages clients to reschedule intend of coming in when they’re sick.
    2. If I were to cancel a session every time either I or my client is sick, I’d never see anyone. – I call BS on this one. Just how sick can one provider and their clients be? In my opinion this is a white washed, pragmatized version of “I need the money,” but without admitting to the fear.
    3. My boss requires me to have a doctor’s note if I’m going to be off work sick. These folks have my fullest empathy because I’ve been in their shoes and they really are between a rock and a hard place. It’s not entirely their fault that they’re working sick. What’s a provider to do when they go to bed feeling fine but wake up with a real doozy of a cold and are scheduled first thing in the morning? They’re required to have a doctor’s note in order to call in sick, but they can’t get to the doctor to get a note because they’re scheduled to start working at the same time the doctor’s office opens. It’s a no-win situation.

    What You Can Do

    Bosses will continue to require their employees to work while they’re sick until it negatively affects their bottom line. Individual practitioners will continue to work on clients when they’re sick as long as their clients let them.

    If you don’t want an unwell practitioner working on you, the best thing you can do is to refuse to be seen. Simply ask to reschedule your appointment to a time in the future when the practitioner is feeling better, and make sure you’re clear that the reason you won’t be seen is that you don’t want a sick provider working on you. I know that this won’t be easy, especially if you’re in pain or you were really looking forward to your appointment. Ultimately, however, it’s your choice.

    If you’ve ever been greeted at your appointment by a wellness provider who was obviously sick, what did you do? Let me know in the comments, below.

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