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Channel 2's Kolbotek consumer watchdog program claimed Tuesday night that it had caught redhanded the head of ophthalmology at Nahariya's Western Galilee Government Hospital demanding and taking bribes for performing cornea transplants on patients in exchange for tens of thousands of shekels. None of the families who donated their loved ones' corneas had been told they would be transplanted in exchange for the alleged under-the-table payments.
Dr. Uri Reihani, who has worked at the government hospital for 20 years and performed thousands of eye operations, was said to have taken cash from patients before surgery after explaining to them during visits in his clinic that they would have to wait months, if not longer, to get a cadaver cornea and that young, inexperienced surgeons would operate as corneas became available if he were not paid to perform the operations.
The law forbids state employees in government institutions to accept any money from the public for doing his or her job. Kolbotek staffers who volunteered for months in Reihani's department - which performs 20 percent of all cornea transplants in the country - spoke to families who paid him and nurses who said they had learned from the families what was happening but had been afraid to complain.
Kolbotek host Rafi Ginat said the patients - some of whom were brought to the operating theater less than 24 hours after allegedly paying Reihani cash for the surgery and corneas - received no receipt. Patients who said they paid him said Reihani had claimed the money went to the hospital's research fund, but the fund's head said it never received any money from Reihani.
The Nahariya ophthalmologist reportedly took legal action to prevent the segment from being broadcast, but the court in the case ruled in favor of Kolbotek and allowed it to air. Reihani did not appear on the show, but his lawyer denied that his client had taken any money for surgery.
Nahariya Hospital director Dr. Moshe Daniel said he was shocked by the report, as charging or accepting money from patients was strictly prohibited. He added that he expected the Health Ministry, which owns the hospital, to investigate. Daniel said he had never received any complaints from patients about being charged for cornea transplants.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Inbal Jacobs said Tuesday night that the ministry was first made aware of the allegations when the segment was broadcast, and that it had not received any complaints against Dr. Reihani. "We will examine the Kolbotek evidence and decide whether it should be presented for investigation by the ministry and other authorities," Jacobs said.