Monday, May 01, 2000

Dr. Pembaur dies; won lawsuit for illegal search

By Michelle Rose
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When it came to justice for his patients, Dr. Bertold J. Pembaur knew what he had to do: fight.

        “He was a pretty straightforward person. He stood up for what he believed in and didn't tolerate much argument,” said son Dr. Bertold Pembaur of Landen.

        Dr. Pembaur died April 24 at Terrace View Nursing Home in Cheviot from complications of heart disease and stroke. He was 80.

        Born in Salzburg, Austria, he studied medicine at the Universities of Vienna and Innsbruck until he was called up for World War II service in an artillery unit against the Allies on the Russian front.

        After the war, his sister, Waltraud Pembaur Cate, of Portola Valley, Calif., sent him a list of available medical positions in the United States. He choose Cincinnati because of its German ancestry.

        He moved to Amberley Village in 1951.

        Dr. Pembaur was a resident physician at Deaconess Hospital until he joined a private practice in the West End. He married Joan Bruder in 1954.

        In 1959, Dr. Pembaur opened his own office in Avondale and later expanded to the Rockdale Medical Center in 1965.

        “He was adored by his patients who felt that in addition to the excellent care they received, they were treated and supported like family,” the younger Dr. Pembaur said.

        In the early 1970s, the center was one of the state's largest single-physician practices, with many Medicaid patients.

        “Dr. Pembaur was always very interested in his patients, and very diligent in their care,” said Dr. Philip Edlin, a specialist who sometimes cared for the older physician's patients.

        Dr. Pembaur returned to Deaconess in 1967 as an attending physician, as well to as Good Samaritan Hospital in 1970.

        “He was very devoted to his patients,” his son said. “He even did house calls for a while. He was the reason I went into the practice myself.”

        His concern for the privacy of his patients and employees became an issue in the 1970s.

        In 1977, after Dr. Pembaur was accused of improperly billing the state Medicaid program, Cincinnati police entered his office and took patients' medical records.

        Later that year, the physician and three staff members were indicted by a county grand jury for theft and obstruction of justice (when Dr. Pembaur tried to prevent police from entering his office), and receiving stolen property — the Medicaid funds.

        Dr. Pembaur was convicted of obstruction of justice in December 1977, but a Hamilton County jury acquitted him in 1981 on the theft and stolen property charges. He appealed the conviction, and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed it in 1987, ruling the search illegal.

        That freed him to sue Hamilton County; he won $1,000.

        Throughout the trial and appeals, Dr. Pembaur continued to practice at the Rockdale Medical Center. He retired in 1995 and closed his office.

        He was a member of the American Academy of Family Practice and the Academy of Medicine.

        He also is survived by his wife, of Westwood; sons Robert of Hamilton Township in Warren County, and Derrick of Reading; daughters Elizabeth Harpenau of Crosby Township and Odilie Pembaur of Bonn, Germany; and nine grandchildren.

        A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 2832 Rosebud Drive, Westwood. Dr. Pembaur's body was cremated and burial will be in Germany.

        Memorials: American Cancer Society, Hamilton County Unit, 11117 Kenwood Road, Cincinnati, 45242.


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