Applicants to become licensed massage therapists are irate because turmoil on the Louisiana Board of Massage Therapy has stopped the licensing process, the new chairwoman of the panel said Thursday.

"There are people ticked off now because they applied for licensing," said Kathie Lea, a Baton Rouge resident and licensed therapist for the past 35 years.

In one case applicants were banging on the door of the board office. Others have lodged complaints through angry phone calls, Lea said.

She said it is not unusual for aspiring therapists to spend $15,000 to meet state education requirements needed to become a massage therapist.

"They need to go to work," Lea said. "Many of them have jobs waiting for them. They just spent a fair amount of money on an education. They need to start paying the loans back and making a living."

Lea said the licensing process ground to a halt around Nov. 5, when the board could not meet because it lacked a quorum.

"If they (applicants) could give us two more weeks, we should be able to jump start something," she said.

State oversight of the industry has turned chaotic after the board's longtime executive director resigned effective Nov. 6, the chairwoman quit too and three others left the seven-member board because their terms expired.

The board office on O'Neal Lane in Baton Rouge has been mostly closed for weeks, with one official of the state Department of Health filling in temporarily.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, who names the board, made appointments on Monday but his office has declined to provide the names.

Aside from Lea the new members are Karla Swacker, of Baton Rouge; Donna Green, of Lafayette; and Rosemary Wilkinson, of St. Francisville.

The holdovers are Casey Little, of Baton Rouge; James Steele, of Pride and Antoinette V. Joseph.

The state has about 2,700 therapists working at 628 establishments.

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Much of the turmoil stems from a state audit issued in March that said state regulation of the industry is riddled with problems, fails to ensure that businesses are not sexually oriented operations and lacks consistent standards on when to dismiss sexual misconduct and other complaints.

The report also said an inordinate number of complaints on possible human trafficking and other issues were dismissed by the board over a two-year period.

Applicants for a massage therapist license are required to get 500 hours of classroom instruction, including 325 devoted to massage therapy techniques and related issues, 125 hours for the study of anatomy and physiology and 50 hours on professional ethics and other issues.

They can get the training at community and technical colleges and other sites, and earn a credential to nine months or so if they are fulltime students.

However, the new board is in the early stages of trying to resume normal board and office operations.

Lea and Little will lead the hunt for a new executive director, which was formerly held by Rhonda McManus, who was paid $92,393 per year.

The board plans to rely on the state's temporary staff agency to resume office operations.

'You are going to need some sort of staff between now and the end of the year," said Sheri M. Morris, general counsel for the board.

Lea said some license applications were pending when reviews stopped around Nov. 5.

"We have not been legally able to get in the door because there was not a chair," she said.

Little said another issue is the board's computer system, which requires immediate attention to avoid a shutdown on Dec. 15 that would require the office to handle annual renewals manually.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.