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Pensioner defrauded, then dies under suspicious circumstances in hospital

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It sounds like something out of a horror movie, but it happened in a private Johannesburg care facility.

Jewish pensioner Bernard “Bernie” Katz was admitted to Netcare Rosebank Hospital on 26 January 2021, but died under suspicious circumstances on 5 May 2021. In that time, R153 500 was allegedly stolen from his account, and he was then poisoned with rat poison, as per a toxicology report.

According to a family member who could not be named, the 83-year-old grandfather was in hospital for bowel-obstruction surgery. “After the surgery, he was very weak, but I nurtured him back to life,” the family member said. “At first he hardly ate, but just before he was due to be discharged, he ate four kneidels in one go! He was ready to go home and was building up his strength. He had such a zest for life, and had so much more living to do.”

The family member says that Katz “suffered horrendously” in the last month of his life. “After the incident [the alleged poisoning], they had to resuscitate him and put him on a ventilator. He had to have dialysis and blood transfusions. He was in agony, with tears running down his face. I could see he was begging me to help him, and there was nothing I could do. And when he died, we had to wait for the police. We couldn’t even call the Chevrah Kadisha because of the need for an autopsy. It was a double trauma.”

An autopsy has to be done if there is the possibility of murder, but according to lawyers, the results could take up to a year. His death certificate, which the SA Jewish Report has seen, says the cause of his passing is “under investigation”.

Katz’ family is being represented by David Swartz of SWVG Inc. Attorneys. In a summons to the High Court of South Africa Gauteng Division, dated 4 May 2021, the chain of events is laid out.

It describes how Katz was admitted to hospital on or around 26 January 2021 for observation. “Upon admission, the plaintiff [Katz] was instructed by hospital staff to surrender possession of his personal belongings, including his wallet, to the hospital for safekeeping.”

The next day, “his cell phone was also taken from him by hospital staff for safekeeping”. On 28 January 2021, he underwent surgery, after which he was transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). “While in the ICU, he was intubated in a serious but stable condition. On 13 March 2021, after he had been transferred out of ICU, he accessed his online banking facilities using a laptop provided to him by his daughter-in-law.”

He discovered that “funds totalling R153 500 had been misappropriated from his banking and credit card facilities through a series of credit-card payments, ATM withdrawals, cash transfers, EFT payments, and ‘Autobank instant money cash’ transactions on his bank account,” the summons states.

Upon discovering the missing funds, Katz requested the return of his personal belongings. He then ascertained that “his credit card had been stolen from his wallet”. He realised funds had been stolen by using his cell phone “or cloning his SIM card”. Alternatively, they could have been stolen by using his credit card. He also ascertained that this theft “was perpetrated by persons employed by the hospital, or persons who had access to his cell phone or wallet, both of which had been given to the hospital staff”.

Upon discovering the misappropriation of funds, Katz and his family complained to the hospital. He was also told he would be discharged in mid-April, according to a letter his lawyers wrote to Netcare dated 16 April 2021.

The summons and letter describe how on 6 April 2021, after eating breakfast, “he was rushed to ICU presenting with difficulty breathing, low heart rate, and hypothermia. Blood tests performed on his blood on the same day revealed that he was suffering from organophosphate poisoning. Organophosphate is a powerful nerve agent found in pesticides and insecticides such as Rattex [rat poison].”

In the summons, the lawyers state: “The plaintiff was poisoned whilst admitted as a patient in hospital by persons employed at the hospital or with access to hospital facilities in an attempt to kill off the plaintiff in order to quash the complaints laid by him regarding the theft of monies.”

As a result of the poisoning, Katz was intubated, and was unable to breathe without assistance. Although at times lucid, he was unable to walk and had no quality of life. He died one month after being poisoned.

In the summons and their letter, the lawyers state that “what is of grave concern is that not only was there an attempt to murder our client while in the care of a private hospital, but in all probability, there are syndicates within Netcare hospitals who are committing similar crimes on other patients”.

They plead with Netcare to put in place measures to address that possibility, as well as for the hospital group to share documentation and video footage that could help with the case. However, all they have received from Netcare is a request for Katz’ medical records – the same records in Netcare’s possession.

“The public has a right to know what transpired as it is grotesque in the extreme that a patient admitted into a Netcare hospital could in fact be murdered while in such care,” says Swartz in his letter addressed to the directors of Netcare. Swartz says he didn’t get any response, and has confirmed his mandate to pursue this matter to its conclusion.

In a statement issued on 25 May 2021 in response to questions from the SA Jewish Report, Netcare Rosebank Hospital General Manager Richard Mulder says, “We extend our sincere condolences to the family of the deceased patient. We understand the family’s pain over the uncertainty regarding the cause of their loved one’s death, and while we as a hospital cannot speculate as to the cause, we are doing everything reasonably possible to support the process that must, by law, be followed in such instances.

“Whenever a person passes away and the cause of death cannot be determined with clinical certainty, the death is certified as an unnatural death, as was done in this case. In accordance with the Inquests Act, 1959, and as part of the investigation by the state into the probable cause/s of an unnatural death, an autopsy will be conducted by an independent state pathologist. Any enquiry regarding the death of the patient should be directed to the state prosecutor, via the South African Police Service (SAPS).

“As is the case in all circumstances where a death in our facilities is considered of unnatural cause, we are fully supportive of the process to determine the cause of death, which must now take its course,” Mulder says. “The hospital as well as the clinicians involved will co-operate fully with the authorities in this due process.

“We were further greatly concerned about allegations that funds disappeared from the bank account of the patient and the insinuation that a member of staff may have been responsible for the alleged theft.

“Netcare looked into the matter to determine what transpired and to ascertain whether the hospital’s strict procedures for safekeeping of patient valuables were adhered to. In consequence, we strongly dispute the allegations as well as a possible connection between the demise of the patient and the money which is said to have gone missing.

“We have encouraged the patient’s family to report the matter to the SAPS, and to open a case so that this matter can be fully investigated. We have zero tolerance for any criminal behaviour, and our hospital will co-operate fully with a SAPS investigation should a case be opened to bring any person or persons responsible to book.”

Says the family member, “Bernie was not an ‘old’ 83. He lived on his own, was driving and independent. He loved playing bowls, and was an avid follower of the stock market. He loved his family, and was just the sweetest man. I feel angry and devastated. I loved him back to life, and they stole him from me.”

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Eric

    May 27, 2021 at 10:55 am

    This requires further investigation

  2. Deanna Isaacs

    May 27, 2021 at 11:33 am

    This is a shocking story I hope the family will get some truth eventually I wish them all the best

  3. Louise Standley

    May 28, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    My mother was admitted to the Netcare Rosebank Clinic in 2014 after suffering a stroke. Her engagement ring which was impossible to remove from her finger without cutting the ring, was also removed during the course of the night by what can only be hospital staff.
    I received NO help from the Clinic Management and was told that there are no cameras in the actual ward so it was impossible to see what had transpired.
    I firmly believe that a criminal element exists within that hospital. I would rather go to any other medical facility than put a foot there ever again.
    My mother was severely traumatised and unable to explain what had happened as she had lost her speech after suffering the stroke.

  4. Rochelle Maisel

    May 31, 2021 at 5:15 pm

    My husband was subjected to a failure of a ventilator in November 2020 which left him brain damaged at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Hospital in Cape Town. I decided not to sue for a number of reasons.

  5. Esther Judah

    Jun 5, 2021 at 5:29 pm

    How terrible this clearly is a Frankenstein place don’t put any loved ones in this place and they will soon have to close. Or don’t wear valuables and don’t take personal possessions in when your admitted into there hospital.

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