Sunday, July 10, 2016

JOHANN VAN ROOYEN, CARING DOCTOR WHO CASHED CHEQUES FOR HIS ELDERLY PATIENTS

Dear Patients everywhere,
Marjorie Pelton

          Have you ever come across a GP as helpful and caring as Johann van Rooyen? What more could you want than to have a doctor who looks after you so well in your old age that he even takes you to the bank to cash your cheques. And if you can’t make it he goes there for you.
          Marjorie Pelton was living alone in a flat in Trianon, a Cape Town retirement complex when Van Rooyen began providing her with this unusual medical service. When it began in 2007 her memory was failing her but she had every confidence in Van Rooyen, after all he had been her doctor for 30 years.
          If you had looked at her bank statements you would have thought: Here is a real merry widow living it up.
          The true picture only emerged early in July 2009 when her daughters Cheryl Bluff and Carol Weber went to her flat to find their mother “very emotional and tearful.” She kept repeating that “she could not believe that someone she loved and trusted could have done this to her,” Cheryl wrote in an affidavit she attested to in 2009.

          The sisters then sat down to go through a pile of Nedbank cheques and other documents their mother had obtained from her bank. And this is what they discovered according to Cheryl’s statement.
          “Of all the cheques written between January and July 2009, 39 of them were for money Dr van Rooyen took for himself. Twenty six of these were actually in his handwriting and 13 were written by my mother, who says he would ask her for money to settle unpaid medical aid bills.
          “Even a cursory glance revealed that something was very wrong,” Cheryl a 53 year old estate agent with RE/MAX Elite in Cape Town continued.  She maintained that her mother had had no major operations that year and her medical accounts were paid by her medical aid Medihelp, yet large amounts of money had been taken out of her account either as “CASH” cheques or ones made out to Van Rooyen.
          According to Cheryl her mother’s funds dropped from R490 000 in 2007 to almost zero. In January 2009 she had R370 000 in the bank and by July that year only R100 was left. “Her entire life savings had vanished.”
          “For example” Cheryl went on; “Just from the short statement she got from the bank we saw that; February 2009 he took about R57 000; March 2009 - R150 000; April 2009 - R117 000 and in May 2009 – R20 500.
          “At least 13 of the 39 cheques written from January 2009 did not match the stub amounts he had written into my mother’s cheque book.”
          One was a cheque dated 1 April 2009 made out to Van Rooyen for R24 000 that had only R1 700 written in the stub section.
          “I believe Dr Van Rooyen has taken advantage of my mother’s deteriorating state of mind. He has known her for 30 years and therefore knows how sweet and completely trusting she is. She is a religious woman who never believes ill of anyone.”
          Mrs Pelton was aged 80 in 2009 and Cheryl made the statement then on her behalf as her mother’s memory was not up to it. She had also been diagnosed with brain, lung and breast cancer and she died the following year.
Cheryl Bluff

          Cheryl claimed that the “similarity of the dates of doctor’s visits (to her mother) and bank withdrawals ties up with what was reported by the staff at Nedbank in Plumstead.” There she was told that whenever her mother arrived at the bank during the relevant months Dr Van Rooyen was at her side.
          “The staff there claim he’s there repeatedly with old ladies, ‘helping them’ to do their banking,” Cheryl added.
          She gave the two affidavits to the Police in 2009 when she made a complaint against Van Rooyen. The Specialised Commercial Crime Unit decided they could not prosecute without Mrs Pelton who was the key witness. So the case was passed to the Health Professions Council (HPCSA), the body responsible for policing doctors. 
Part of Cheryl Bluff's affidavit

          The HPCSA then dragged its feet judging by a letter dated 6 August 2013 sent by Advocate Malini Govender, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions in the Unit for the Western Cape to the Legal Services section of the Council. In it he stated “In your letter dated 11/7/2012 you acknowledged my letter with annexures.” He said he had sent them the statements to enable the Council to decide if it wanted to investigate Van Rooyen or not.

          “This is your decision and I believe you will act in the best interests of the medical profession.”
          Now FOUR YEARS after the Medical Council received Govender’s first letter it is actually going to hold a Professional Conduct inquiry at which Van Rooyen is to be charged with being “guilty of unprofessional conduct” in that he abused his doctor/patient relationship with Mrs Pelton to enrich himself.
          The hearing will take place in Cape Town later this month.
          When I asked Dr Van Rooyen if he would be 
attending the hearing he said he didn't know what 
was happening. That was for other people to organise.        
        Questioned about the allegations relating to him and Mrs
Pelton he said: "That was about eight years ago. I just get on with my work. I don't get involved."
        The Council might have given him the gap to slip through to enable him to have the hearing adjourned at the very least. It's humpty dumpty medical cops could't even get his name right on the charge CHARGE SHEET.
            It is given as DR JOHANN ROOYEN
                                          *     *     *
          The Mrs Pelton’s case is not the first time Dr van Rooyen has been reported to the HPCSA after drawing money from a bank allegedly on behalf of one of his very ill elderly patients.
          In 2011 Eric Rowberry, who was then working in West Africa, asked me to look into Van Rooyen’s relationship with his father Richard who died aged 69 at his home in Cape Town on 21 July 2010.  Van Rooyen began treating him four months earlier when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
          During this time the doctor went to the bank allegedly on Richard’s behalf and cashed seven cheques made out to cash totally R68 000. There was no dispute that the doctor cashed the cheques and the fee he charged for all his services was an agreed  R5 000 a month.
          The only statement Van Rooyen gave the family was for a total of R30 000 and as one of the beneficiaries Eric wanted to know where the rest of the money had gone.
          Eric, who had considerable email correspondence with Van Rooyen, told me, “The doctor's argument has been that he was doing my father a favour by going to the bank for him as he was too weak or was too cold and he was worried my father would catch a cold/pneumonia. I don’t buy this as he was strong enough to take me to lunch; tour Robben Island and drive himself to Calitzdorp (a round trip of 800 km from Cape Town). It was totally out of character for my father to spend money like this. He was frugal to say the least.”
From his website
         I saw Van Rooyen at his surgery in Gabriel Road in the Plumstead suburb of Cape Town. He has been practising in the area for almost 40 years. His room was at the end of a passage leading off a dentist reception area. Van Rooyen’s patients waited there but he had no receptionist and the dentist’s receptionist evidently did not deal with the doctor’s patients. While I was waiting there an elderly woman came through from the doctor’s room and said to the receptionist, “Don’t I get a receipt?” She was told to go back and speak to Van Rooyen. She returned soon afterwards saying that everything was now in order. I then went in to see Van Rooyen.

          During our conversation he showed me a cash cheque which he said he had just received. He stuffed it into the top pocket of his jacket. It was probably from the lady he had just seen. He told me he did not pay tax on cash payments. He agreed this was wrong but said that all doctors did this and they had a receipt book for this purpose. He then opened his one to show me. I told him that if he was cheating the tax man, how did he expect anybody to believe that he wasn’t ripping off his patients.
          The doctor evidently realised he had put himself in an invidious position by cashing the cheques because he asked me what I thought he should do to placate the Rowberry family and I suggest he repay R20 000. He replied; “I just don’t have that kind of money.” He added that I should get Eric to come and see him as he might consider paying a thousand or so to get the whole thing over with. He didn’t like dealing with a third party.
          Shortly afterwards Eric returned from West Africa and met Van Rooyen at Knead Café in Muizenberg. Eric told me that the doctor had agreed to pay back R25 000 in six monthly instalments of about R5 000. The money would come from a family trust that paid out dividends every six months.
          Van Rooyen told him that he was concerned that if the matter went to the Medical Council he would be accused of malpractice.
          He didn’t pay anything for the first six months and after some email reminders he made a cash payment of R2 000 into Eric’s account. Nothing was paid after that and he stopped answering further emails from Eric.
          In October 2012 I submitted a Letter of Complaint to the HPCSA on behalf of Eric. It contained everything in the report I had given him.
          Just over a year later a Legal Service Officer from the Council replied in a letter dated 19 December 2013 saying  that the Committee concerned had found that there was “insufficient evidence to make a finding” and the “matter is closed.”
          Included in the letter was Van Rooyen’s “explanation” from his lawyers Michael Matthews and Associates which stated:
          “Our client’s explicit instructions are that these cheques were cashed on behalf of Mr Richard Rowberry as per his formal request and our client was initially extremely uncomfortable in cashing these cheques but Mr Rowberry requested that our client attend to same.
Richard Rowberry
          “It was clear that on each occasion the late Mr Rowberry signed each cheque whilst fully compos mentis, although he may not physically have been able to cash a cheque himself, he was completely aware of what he was requesting and doing.
          “Whether this matter was irregular or not, we wish to reiterate that it was done at the express instructions of Mr Rowberry.”
          “Mr Rowberry was attended on our client in a professional and ethical manner at all times.”
          The only reference to the settlement offered by Van Rooyen was “It appears that Mr Abbott and Mr Eric Rowberry have been trying to coerce our client into making some form of settlement, which our client does not and did not need to do in anyway whatsoever, as services were professionally rendered to the late Mr Rowberry, on his express instructions.”
          The Medical Council completely ignored the fact that not only did Van Rooyen ask me what settlement I would suggest but he then went on to make an offer of R25 000 to Eric and paid one installment of R2 000.
          THIS WAS EFFECTIVELY AN ADMISSION OF GUILT. Had he been as innocent as he claimed through his lawyer he would never even have mentioned the possibility of a settlement, let alone have discussions about it with both me and Eric independently? And then make a deal with Eric which he ratted on after only one payment.
          Neither the Council nor his lawyer commented on the fact that he told me that he does not pay tax on cash payments.
          The Council is more like a doctor's protection
society than an organisation to keep them in line.
        Conveniently for them it seems that it never does any of
its own investigations. Complainants are expected to present
it with an open and shut case.
        Conveniently too it doesn't have the power to order doctors to repay any money they might have taken from a patient. 
        For that the aggrieved person has to mount their own
expensive civil action in the High Court.
              Even the Council’s former President Dr Nicky Padayachee conceded in its 2007 annual report that the perception was that the Council is “soft” on practitioners.
          To take FOUR YEARS before setting up an inquiry into Mrs Pelton’s case showed appalling inefficiency. Even some of the witnesses could have died during this time. Some might have even left the country.

          If I remember rightly I had to badger the HPCSA to get a decision out of it during the year I was kept waiting for the Rowberry finding. It is hard to understand why it took so long, especially as all they appear to have done is to accept Van Rooyen’s explanation given by his attorneys without question.
         
          Regards,
          Jon

P.S. Good health to you all and may you never have reason to call on the Health Professions Council to sort out your doctor. 


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