Osteopathic manual practitioners across Ontario are urging the government to let them work and help patients in need amid a provincewide month-long COVID-19 shutdown.

These practitioners are not deemed essential healthcare workers by the provincial government, and therefore are prohibited from working for at least another three weeks.

The Ontario Association of Osteopathic Manual Practitioners (OAO) says these workers have been “completely overlooked” within the government’s COVID-19 response framework, despite providing a crucial healthcare service to many Ontarians.

“Prior to COVID, it [the government] never really gave much thought as to where osteopathy fit,” OAO President Catherine Cabral-Marotta told CP24.com.

“It is a healthcare service but because it's unregulated when the reopening plan started to take place it ended up being slotted in somehow with personal care services, simply because it had nowhere else to go and the government couldn't really identify for us where we were best suited to be a part of the reopening plan.”

Osteopathy is a hands-on approach that relies on the manipulation of muscle tissues and bones to treat patients with pain, injuries and some illnesses.

Although Osteopathy is considered a healthcare practice, osteopathic manual practitioners are not regulated in Ontario, unlike chiropractors and physiotherapists.

“The OAO acts as a ‘self-regulating body’ where we provide our members with direction as far as what you are required to be a member of our association and then you have to follow a certain code of ethics, you have to follow a certain list of standards of practice, and that's simply to ensure the safety of patients, as well as effective and ethical practice of the profession,” Cabral-Marotta said.

Cabral-Marotta said a key reason osteopathy hasn’t been regulated in Ontario yet is because it’s still a relatively small practice, albeit growing in the province.

The OAO has approximately 400 members.

When the Ontario government enacted a provincewide lockdown on Boxing Day, non-essential businesses had to close in an effort to curb rising coronavirus infections.

At that point, in-person dining at restaurants and personal care services, including hair and nail salons, in Toronto and Peel Region had already been shuttered since Nov. 23 when those regions moved to the grey lockdown zone of the government’s response framework.

Although healthcare services -- including registered massage therapists and chiropractors -- were allowed to work during the lockdown, osteopathic manual practitioners were not.

With no guidance from the government on where osteopathic manual practitioners fell in the response framework, Cabral-Marotta said they were deemed non-essential and basically lumped in with personal care services.

On Jan. 12, the government implemented its second provincial emergency and issued a stay-at-home order requiring non-essential businesses to stay closed for at least another month.

When the government started to gradually lift the stay-at-home order in February in certain regions, hot spot areas, including Toronto and Peel, were placed once again in the grey lockdown level, requiring non-essential business to remain closed.

Last month, the government made amendments to lockdown zones, including permitting outdoor dining at restaurants, outdoor fitness activities, and what was supposed to be the reopening of personal care services on Apr. 12.

But with a spike in infections and hospitalizations, Premier Doug Ford implemented a provincewide shutdown last Saturday and a stay-at-home order on Thursday forcing non-essential businesses to close yet again.

This means that personal care service workers and osteopathic manual practitioners in hot spot regions have been out of work for over four months.

“Many people haven't worked eight out of the last 13 months but that's not really the concern and that's not really our focus,” Cabral-Marotta said. “Our focus is on the patients and the people who are being denied the ability to seek the care that affects their day-to-day life, their quality of life, and because they can't do certain physical things that's having a mental impact on some patients.”

Osteopathic manual practitioners argue that they have all the health and safety measures in place to provide a safe environment for customers and staff, including enhanced cleaning and masks.

Cabral-Marotta added that osteopathic manual practitioners have received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot in some regions across the province, adding another layer of defence against the disease.

“We find that confusing because we're acknowledged as a part of the healthcare system to that respect. But we haven't been as far as the reopening goes and that doesn't make sense to us,” she said.

The current stay-at-home order is expected to stay in place for at least four weeks.

CP24 has reached out to the Ministry of Health for a comment but has not yet received a response.