Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the month a letter was sent to the doctor's patients.
Richmond County authorities are looking into the past of a physician charged with prescription fraud to determine how far the pattern of abuse extended and whether patients were involved.
Sheriff’s Investigator Erik Williams said he was seeking past patients of Dr. John G. Rumbaugh, a family practice physician employed with University Health Care System, who was indicted July 10 on 37 felony counts of prescription drug fraud.
The indictments – in Richmond and Columbia counties – allege that Rumbaugh wrote prescriptions for a fictitious patient to illegally obtain the painkillers hydrocodone and oxycodone over a 13-month period starting in April 2011.
Williams said he has had numerous calls from Rumbaugh’s past patients alleging other prescription abuses and has been working to investigate those claims. He said the investigation has run into some obstacles because Rumbaugh’s co-workers at University Prompt Care in Evans have been unwilling to discuss the case.
“I can’t really get past the front door over there,” he said. “I don’t understand why nobody will talk.”
Williams said he began to build a case against Rumbaugh in early June after a pharmacist called him about a suspicious pattern of prescriptions being filled at the Rite Aid pharmacy at Walton Way and 15th Street.
Williams said Rumbaugh was writing prescriptions to a fictitious patient named “Joachim Koener” and then picking them up himself.
“He paid in cash and said he was delivering it to the patient himself,” Williams said.
The investigation led to more prescriptions that were filled at a Rite Aid on Furys Ferry Road, about a mile from Rumbaugh’s home in West Lake neighborhood. Williams estimates that during that period Rumbaugh received more than 1,000 pills for his personal use, while he was still seeing patients on a daily basis.
“He was getting about 60 pills at a pop,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the pharmacist he would still be doing what he was doing.”
Williams said that not long after that he attempted to interview Rumbaugh while he was on duty at University Hospital.
“I wasn’t really able to talk to him,” Williams said. “He was incoherent.”
Williams said he didn’t get a chance at any more interviews with Rumbaugh. Hospital officials informed him that the doctor had entered a rehab program and would not disclose his location, he said.
“They got real evasive about it and were reluctant about saying exactly where he was,” he said.
University Hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester said Rumbaugh took an extended leave of absence in mid-June. In March, the hospital also sent a letter to his patients informing them that he would no longer be their physician.
“He has no privileges to treat any patients and has no access to patient information,” she said.
A grand jury arrest warrant was issued July 10 along with the indictments, but Williams said he had no idea where Rumbaugh was until he was arrested Aug. 1 in Cook County, Ga.
According to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Rumbaugh was stopped for speeding on Interstate 75 South about 41 miles from the Florida line. Police discovered he was wanted in Richmond and Columbia counties.
Rumbaugh was picked up the next day by sheriff’s officers and taken to the Richmond County jail. He was released Aug. 23 on $5,000 bond on the condition that he return to the Talbott Recovery Campus, an Atlanta addiction treatment center.
Messages left Wednesday with Rumbaugh’s attorney, William Sussman, were not returned.
Williams is hoping other witnesses will come forward so he can continue his investigation. In the meantime, he also is waiting to hear from the Georgia Composite Medical Board, the state agency that licenses physicians.
“I’ve tried and I’ve made numerous calls, and no one there has returned my call yet,” he said.