Last updated: February 16. 2013 6:02PM - 696 Views

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A former Hazleton chiropractor who was accused of causing the 1999 death of an epileptic woman is fighting a state agency's denial of her request for a license to practice massage therapy.

Joanne Gallagher hopes to convince the State Board of Massage Therapy 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Gallagher turned to massage therapy after her chiropractic license was revoked based on federal charges filed against her in 2004 related to illegally billing Medicaid for services she provided to Strohecker.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, lobbied for years to have criminal charges filed against Gallagher, who convinced Kimberly, a severe epileptic, to stop taking her anti-seizure medications, leading to a violent seizure that killed her on April 28, 1999.

Gallagher has acknowledged she was wrong to treat Strohecker, but contends she has changed in the 13 years since the death and deserves a second chance, said her attorney, Walter Grabowski.

But Dawn Strohecker said she is convinced Gallagher remains a danger. She is determined to see that she never again practices in a profession involving public health.

"The public needs to be protected from someone like her. She can't be trusted," Strohecker said. "I will fight her every step of the way, regardless of what she tries to become."

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 has practiced massage therapy since her release from prison. Her application for a license was denied in March based on the federal conviction. She appealed the decision and a hearing was held last week.

Grabowski said an attorney for the Bureau of Occupational Affairs argued against granting a license based on Gallagher's treatment of Kimberly Strohecker and her admission to fraudulently billing Medicaid.

Federal prosecutors alleged Gallagher treated Strohecker for epilepsy and billed Medicaid by characterizing the treatment as a spinal manipulation when, in fact, no manipulation was performed.

Grabowski said Gallagher has admitted she made mistakes and has also expressed remorse for Strohecker's death. Dawn Strohecker, who attended the hearing, said she doesn't believe Gallagher has accepted responsibility for her actions.

"At one point it got to be so much I had to leave (the hearing). She was just rambling on about what she wants to do and how this affected her family. There was no remorse for my daughter, no nothing for my daughter," Strohecker said.

Grabowski said he understands Dawn Strohecker's feelings, but the board must set aside emotions and focus on the question of whether Gallagher is qualified to hold a massage therapy license.

"Their argument would be you really can't trust her because of that incident 13 years ago. Does that mean no one can ever be rehabilitated? I don't think so," Grabowski said. "You need to take in consideration what happened in 1999, but you also need to take into consideration the person she is today."

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State, said he expects the board will discuss the matter at its meeting in September or October. A decision is expected by November.

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