2005-07-08 / Front Page

Too ‘Physical’ With Patient

By Brian Magoolaghan

Richard Joseph CowanRichard Joseph Cowan A local physical therapist had his license revoked this year after being found guilty of having a sexual relationship with a patient who was suffering from a diminished mental capacity, The Wave has learned. And, he is still seeing patients in Rockaway.

The State Board of Physical Therapy found Richard Joseph Cowan guilty of carrying on an “unethical” relationship with his patient for nearly three years and pulled his license, according to official disciplinary records obtained by The Wave.

Cowan, who is affiliated with Rockaway Park Physical Therapy and Lawrence Physical Therapy, kissed, fondled “and engaged in both sexual intercourse and deviate sexual intercourse” with the patient inside his office and at other undisclosed locations, according to the records.

The patient – identified only by the initials D.H. – began seeing Cowan in 1996 after a high-speed car accident left her with “cognitive dysfunction” and a ruptured disk in her neck.

The records say the woman did not resist Cowan’s sexual advances, and do not say how the relationship was exposed.

“Due to her post-accident condition, D.H. did not comprehend the full nature of the circumstances when [Cowan] was having sexual relations with her,” the board said. “D.H. could not and did not effectively consent to having a sexual relations with respondent.”

A bizarre comment contained in the records sheds light on the victim’s mental state after her crash: She told Cowan that, “‘what he was doing, he was doing to a little girl,’” and then subsequently viewed his conduct “as his just taking advantage of the opportunity to use her.”

The records say the woman tried to commit suicide at home while under Cowan’s care, and that she developed the sexually transmitted disease Molluscum Contagiosum – a chicken pox-like skin rash – after the two had sex.

Cowan also borrowed approximately $7,000 from the woman around the time he opened an office in Lawrence. Records indicate he paid the money back.

Contacted by The Wave this week, Cowan said he was “remorseful” and indicated that he was seeking an appeal.

“I’ve apologized to the patient, to my family and I’ve had articles printed in professional publications where I apologized to the profession,” Cowan said.

The New York State Education Department, which licenses physical therapists in the state, held hearings in 2003 and 2004, after Cowan’s actions came to light. He was found guilty beyond a preponderance of the evidence this year and the board – going beyond a review panel’s recommendation – revoked his license.

“It is our opinion that [Cowan’s] conduct was so reprehensible that it warrants the imposition of the penalty of revocation,” the board concluded.

Cowan said he had until July 12 to continue practicing, but education department sources confirmed that his license was already revoked and that he would have to wait at least three years to seek re-licensing.

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