08/26/07 — Cherry hospital extends doctor's inquiry

View Archive

Cherry hospital extends doctor's inquiry

By Lee Williams
Published in News on August 26, 2007 2:07 AM

The decision on whether an acting medical director at Cherry Hospital will keep his job despite an 18-year-old felony conviction will wait a few more weeks, state officials say.

An investigatory leave concerning Dr. Robert C. Owens, 53, of Hardingwood Drive, has been extended to Sept. 4, said Debbie Crane, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Owens was placed on an investigatory leave with pay on July 25 after questions surfaced about his Jan. 19, 1989, conviction in Burke County for felony taking indecent liberties with a child.

An employee raised concerns to Cherry Hospital director Dr. Jack St. Clair about Owens' record. When his questions went unanswered, the employee took his concerns elsewhere.

Calls were made from The Goldsboro News-Argus regarding Owens' employee status, and in less than 24 hours, Owens who draws a salary of $166,100, was placed on investigatory leave with pay.

Criminal background checks were not mandatory when Owens joined Cherry Hospital's medical staff, but employees were expected to list on their job application if they had been convicted of a felony.

It remains unclear if that information was listed on Owens' application.

Owens was initially placed on leave until Aug. 26.

It remains unclear if or when Owens will return to work, Mrs. Crane said.

"The doctor's investigatory leave has been extended through the close of business on Sept. 4," she said. "I want to make it clear that doesn't mean he'll be coming back on Sept. 5. We don't know if he'll be coming back. It does mean he is out on paid investigatory leave until the close of business on Sept. 4, but that does not mean he will be returning on the 5th."

Owens' conviction was in response to a claim lodged against him by a child in Morganton, a city where he used to practice internal medicine.

On May 15, 1988, a friend of Owens' daughter accused him of entering a room where the child slept during a sleepover and sexually molesting her. Officials have said Owens was believed to be under the influence of some type of impairing substance before the incident occurred.

On the day of his conviction, the family of the victim filed a civil suit in Burke County requesting restitution for the child's counseling sessions, the victim's father said when reached at home in Morganton.

Owens' license was suspended by the North Carolina Medical Board on Jan. 27, 1989. He was also banned from practicing medicine within 100 miles of Morganton.

After a three-year prison sentence of which he reported to a work camp, Owens was issued a temporary permit from March 1991 to July 22, 1994.

Owens was hired at Cherry Hospital on July 1, 1993 -- two years before he had a clear medical license.

Since his arrival, DHHS officials said Owens has maintained a clean record.

And since his suspension, church members, several doctors and others in key positions at Cherry Hospital have come out in support of Owens. Others have called for Owens to be removed from his post.