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Health care facilities would have to report patient abuse under new bill

By Emily Hoerner - Chicago Tribune 16/05/2024 - [USA] - [PREVENTION] Doctors’ offices and clinics affiliated with hospitals would have to report allegations of patient abuse to the state health department under a measure introduced by Illinois lawmakers this week — legislation that comes about three months after a Chicago Tribune investigation examined the issue.

Under current law hospitals must promptly report allegations of patient abuse, including sexual abuse by a health care worker, to the Illinois Department of Public Health, triggering an investigation into the hospital’s handling of the matter. But allegations of patient abuse that occur at doctors’ offices or clinics outside of hospital walls, even those connected with hospitals, are not currently required to be reported to the state’s health department.

“This is just a simple common sense fix to make clear that hospitals have responsibility for providers at any of their facilities,” said Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who is behind the legislation. “It kind of falls into that category, do we really need to tell somebody out loud that that’s what we expect of them? Apparently we do, so we are.”

Earlier this year, a Chicago Tribune investigation revealed that several well-known health systems allowed workers accused of sexually abusing patients to continue providing care. In several instances, those same health care workers were then accused of abusing additional patients.

In one of the most prominent cases in the state, former Endeavor Health gynecologist Dr. Fabio Ortega has faced lawsuits from more than 60 patients accusing him of sexual assault or abuse. In October 2021, Ortega pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse of two patients following incidents that occurred at two Endeavor-affiliated offices. Many of the alleged incidents described in the lawsuits occurred at hospital-affiliated facilities where the doctor regularly practiced. In the suits, the women accuse the health systems where he worked of failing to protect them.

The Tribune reported on the pivotal role Endeavor, formerly NorthShore University HealthSystem, played in keeping the doctor in place despite multiple complaints from patients.

Cassidy said the bill directly addresses what happened with Ortega.

“This is literally closing the most egregious loophole with the understanding that there is a lot more to do here,” Cassidy said.

Tamara Holder, an attorney who represents most of the women who have sued Ortega and Endeavor along with her co-counsels Johanna Raimond and Stephan Blandin, said the bill is a good start, and will help force “health care institutions to listen to women.” Holder and her co-counsels also helped work on the bill.

“This is important because women spend most of their time receiving gynecological and obstetrical care in a clinic, not in a hospital setting, and the Ortega case and other cases across the country show that most of the abuse does occur in a clinical setting or in an office setting because that’s where doctors have more privacy and alone time with patients,” Holder said.

The Illinois Health and Hospital Association also collaborated on the bill. “The hospital community condemns any form of patient abuse, and supports reporting requirements to protect patients and ensure governing bodies are aware of these incidents,” association spokesperson Amy Barry said in an emailed statement.

Endeavor Health said in a statement Thursday it “is grateful for the good faith efforts of Illinois lawmakers and the hospital community regarding proposals for reporting parity between hospitals and wholly owned external sites” and it will “continue to evaluate the implications of any changes to Illinois law on our patients and staff.”

Sen. Karina Villa, who leads the Illinois Senate Public Health Committee, said she plans to be a sponsor of the bill when it reaches the Senate. She said hospital affiliates shouldn’t be exempt from having to report allegations of abuse. Citing the Tribune’s findings, she called the new legislation “a positive start” and said there’s more work to be done in future legislative sessions.

The Tribune’s reporting also identified several failings in state oversight, including gaps in state laws and slow action by the state agency responsible for disciplining health care workers that resulted in some doctors and other workers accused of abuse continuing to provide patient care for months or years. When hospitals failed to report patient allegations of abuse, they appeared to face few consequences from the state, the Tribune found. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.



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