The Jerusalem police fraud unit has arrested two suspects in their 20s from Beitar Illit on suspicion of fraud and bribery involving Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. Following the arrests, four doctors at the hospital, including a department head, were questioned under caution Thursday morning. Other hospital officials were also questioned.
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The two suspects allegedly approached the families of patients waiting for surgery and other treatments, offering them their services in shortening waiting times for operations and other procedures in exchange for sums of up to 4,000 shekels in cash (just over $1,000 per patient).
The main suspect is Netanel Yaakov Porush, an ultra-Orthodox man known in his community as a fixer in medical matters. Porush used his acquaintance with people such as Rabbi Elimelech Firer, a well-known provider of medical aid to the needy, and claimed to be close to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and other senior healthcare officials to conduct his private medical service operations in the hospital.
Porush and his accomplice apparently managed to shorten waiting times for patients who hired their services. The police don’t yet know, even after doctors were questioned, how surgery was moved up in practice. The doctors denied receiving any benefit, arguing that they had fallen victim to fraud, believing that scheduling changes were coordinated according to medical urgency priorities. The question of how this was done without coordination with the hospital’s administration is still under investigation.
Hadassah responded to the news by saying, “For several months the police, in cooperation with Hadassah, have conducted a covert investigation into allegations that doctors allegedly take illicit payments for helping people ‘cut in line’ at the hospital ER. The inquiry began after the hospital received a complaint to this effect and gave it to the police. In an interview to the media about the issue a few months ago, [Hadassah director] Professor [Zeev] Rotstein spoke about his war against this improper practice.”
Police: Case in early stages
According to police Superintendent Isaac Simon, head of the Jerusalem fraud unit, “The investigation is still in its early stages and we’re investigating several medical officials at the hospital on suspicion of taking bribes.” Simon said these fixers approached the families of these patients in the hospital. They presented a false picture according to which they could help advance the medical interests of these patients due to their familiarity with influential people.
“They approached numerous people, several of whom were in the emergency ward or the intensive care unit, as well as families they knew were in distress. These people received the services for which payment was demanded and delivered,” said Simon.
The court extended Porush’s police custody by three days, releasing his accomplice with restrictions. The investigation began after a complaint was filed by the hospital’s security officer. Police say the two operated for several months in the hospital, during which time dozens of families secured their services. In the weeks preceding the arrests police conducted surveillance on the two.
Attorney Shalom Ben Shabbat, who represented Porush, said, “The charges against my client are unfounded. At the most, his actions constituted fraud, which did not require his being held. I think his version warranted his release, under any conditions the court saw as fitting. This is a person who is in poor health, who suffered a brain dysfunction a few months ago.”
The police responded, “This is a complex investigation of suspects who exploited the sensitive situation and emotional upheaval of patients and their families, defrauding them in exchange for money. The police will complete its investigation and gather solid evidence against anyone involved in the matter.”
Police appealed to the public to come forward and report anyone who had demanded money for moving up a queue for a medical procedure.