HARRISBURG – The state Board of Massage Therapy on Tuesday denied the appeal of a former Hazleton chiropractor who was accused of causing the 1999 death of an epileptic woman and this year unsuccessfully applied for a license to practice massage therapy in Pennsylvania.
Joanne Gallagher had hoped to convince the board to grant her a license despite her admission she practiced outside the chiropractic profession when she treated 30-year-old Kimberly Strohecker, contributing to Strohecker's death.
Gallagher turned to massage therapy after her chiropractic license was revoked based on federal charges filed against her in 2004 related to illegally billing Medicaid for services she provided to Strohecker. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Strohecker's mother, Dawn Strohecker, received a $500,000 settlement after suing Gallagher and Gallagher's former employer – Degenhart Chiropractic – in 2000.
Court papers in that case said Kimberly Strohecker had a history of epilepsy that was controlled with anti-seizure medications, but in 1998, she came under the care of Gallagher, who reduced and eventually discontinued those medications. In April 1999, Strohecker died as a result of uncontrolled seizures, the lawsuit said.
Dawn Strohecker has remained convinced that Gallagher is still a danger and was determined to see that she never again practices in a profession involving public health. She had lobbied for years to have criminal charges filed against Gallagher.
The fight before the massage therapy board stems from a change in state law that requires massage therapists to be licensed as of Jan. 1 this year. Previously they could practice without a license. Gallagher practiced massage therapy in Pennsylvania until Dec. 31, and after Dec. 31 in other states. She received massage therapy certification in May 2006 and had been practicing at Life Expressions Wellness Center in Sugarloaf Township.
Gallagher's application for a license was denied in March based on the federal conviction. She appealed the decision and a hearing was held in August.
In its adjudication and order, the massage therapy board noted that good moral character is one requirement for issuance of a license by the board, and the board concluded that Gallagher does not possess good moral character and that most of the testimony offered as evidence of Gallagher's character was simply not credible and worthy of belief.
What limited credible evidence of rehabilitation that (Gallagher) offered is outweighed by the evidence of her criminal and disciplinary history along with evidence that (Gallagher) retains her past character flaws, the board found.
(Gallagher) deceived Kimberly (Strohecker) by falsely advising her that epilepsy could not only be treated, but cured, by chiropractic treatment. The extraordinary falsity of such a claim is staggering. ‘Quackery' is defined as the practice of fraudulent medicine, usually in order to make money or for ego gratification and power; health fraud and (Gallagher's) treatment of Kimberly certainly fits that description, the board wrote.
The board also said various statements from Gallagher -- such as that the adjustments she performed on Strohecker were chiropractic adjustments when they actually were not -- demonstrates the tenacity with which she holds to past error. And the board cited its right to deny an application based on a past felony conviction of the applicant, which it did as well. The board also disagreed with Gallagher's argument that her convictions do not represent her present character or risk to the public.
Walter T. Grabowski, Gallagher's attorney, said he had not yet discussed the order with her and has not yet read it completely, so he could offer no comment. He said the law allows for an appeal of the order to Commonwealth Court if there are grounds for appeal, but he must conduct an analysis to determine if such grounds exist. He said he didn't know if his client would appeal further if the law permitted it.
Read the Board of Massage Therapy's full opinion at timesleader.com.