The University of New Mexico’s Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) has reopened its massage services, leaving licensed massage therapist (LMT) Eric Revels to find a way to safely meet with clients while simultaneously helping them release stresses often related to the ongoing pandemic.
However, Revels has experienced some anxiety himself taking on new patients amid the continued spread of the coronavirus.
“My worry wasn’t about particularly working at SHAC, but particularly with working on new people,” Revels said. “Whether that be in my private practice or (SHAC) and them being safe to follow the precautions.”
Revels applied to work at SHAC in January, but when the virus arrived in New Mexico he wasn’t sure if he would ever hear back. SHAC had lost its previous LMT at the beginning of 2020, and no one knew when it would be safe enough to provide massages again.
He officially started working as the only massage therapist with SHAC on April 13. Because of safety precautions and public health orders set by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, he was limited to providing services for the reduced staff that was still working in the building over the summer.
By June 1, however, SHAC created a system that safely allowed for students, staff and faculty to start scheduling massages. Everyone that comes to the building gets screened with questions and has their temperature taken before going upstairs to Revels’ office, where he uses gloves, goggles and a mask during the 50-minute session.
At first, booking appointments was a little slow, but once SHAC started promoting massage services through social media and email announcements, it immediately quadrupled the response rate from clients, according to SHAC rehabilitation manager Jamey Harris.
According to SHAC records of massage appointments, booking capacity has been gradually increasing each month with about 40% capacity in June, 60% in August and now 80% overall, which Harris said is about as many patients as they can expect while accommodating for factors like reduced hours of operation and decreased enrollment.
Revels said he averages about 13 to 15 patients a week. Each appointment must be scheduled at least 15 minutes apart to give him time to clean the room between patients. Harris said this cleaning session used to be an hour long but has changed to around ten minutes, which he said is still just as effective.
Patients who come in are usually stressed about the overall change of class structures, campus environment and life in general but don’t usually express safety concerns about physically meeting at SHAC, according to Revels.
UNM student Benjamin Montoya recently had an extremely stressful experience and decided to get a massage at SHAC to help calm himself.
“With all that had been happening over the summer and moving into the dorms being so hectic, I saw it and thought it would be good to have something to help me destress,” Montoya said.
Montoya said he wasn’t particularly worried about his safety regarding COVID-19 during the massage, and he felt relaxed and able to take on the rest of the day with ease afterwards.
However, Harris said she has worked with a handful of students who weren’t comfortable with meeting in person for physical therapy sessions, which has affected many people’s decision to come in for a massage.
“There are definitely people who aren’t accessing services because they don’t want to come into a health facility, and that includes massage,” Harris said.
While noting that there are valid reasons to be concerned about the virus, Revels said SHAC is being extra cautious in order to provide the best possible service for the UNM community at a price range that is affordable.
Revels said SHAC massages only cost $40 for a 50-minute session, whereas massages can cost as much as $100 or more elsewhere. Revels has his own private practice where he charges $70 for an hour-long session.
“I’ve had a lot of repeat people,” Revel said. “They found that it reduced a lot of anxiety in them, because everyone seems to be stressed out.”
UNM also has an insurance program known as the Academic Blue, which allows graduate students to be eligible for two $5 sessions per semester if they are involved with research or teaching assistantship programs.
Daniel Ward is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wardsofward34