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Hospitals accused of ignoring sexual abuse allegations against gynaecologist for decades


By PJ Randhawa - NBC Chicago - 26.03.2024 - [USA] - [Fabio Ortega] Three hundred former patients of a Chicago gynaecologist said they were abused and violated - and two top Chicago hospitals did nothing to protect them, according to a lawsuit filed in Cook County Tuesday morning.

The suit takes aim at Endeavor Health, which now operates Northshore Medical Group and Swedish Covenant Hospital. The attorneys behind the case believe there are more victims who haven’t come forward yet.

Dr. Fabio Ortega, the gynecologist accused in the case, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two patients in 2021. Once news of those allegations became public, more of Ortega’s patients came forward, saying they too had been sexually assaulted under the guise of medical care.

On Tuesday, one of Ortega’s long-time patients spoke exclusively to NBC 5 Investigates about why she filed suit.

“I thought that I was the only one,” said the woman at the center of Tuesday’s lawsuit, identified only as Jane Doe. “You don’t think when you go to a doctor, you’re going to … be raped, or touched inappropriate.”

When the mother of two first saw Ortega in the early 90s, she was 18 years old and pregnant, had never seen a gynaecologist and didn’t speak English.

According to her lawsuit, Jane Doe said the abuse began when her husband stopped coming to her gynecological appointments in the early 2000s. “I start noticing uncomfortable conversations with Dr. Ortega, asking me like, how my husband was in bed,” she said.

She said she found no complaints about Ortega online and she didn’t know if his behaviour was normal for a gynaecologist. It wasn’t until 2016 that she said Ortega’s behaviour turned.

“He told me, ‘I want you to have an orgasm.’ That’s when I told him, ‘No, I feel uncomfortable. I don’t like it, I’m not going to do it.’ And that was the last time I saw Dr. Ortega,” said Jane Doe, who did not speak about her experience until several months ago when she first saw the coverage of Ortega’s prison sentence.

He knew that using the white coat could get away with these forms of abuse, and sadly this patient population was not believed, was not heard the way they should’ve been from the hospital,” Parker Stinar, Jane Doe’s attorney, and managing partner with Stinar Gould Grieco & Hensley, said.

Stinar said Ortega had “a history of sexual abuse and predatory behavior against female patients” that started in the early 1990s, yet the lawsuit alleges both Northshore and Swedish “ignored and concealed the abuse." According to the suit, there was a police complaint made against Ortega in 2004, but nothing resulted from it.

Ortega worked at Swedish Covenant Hospital between 1989 and 2007 and was employed by Northshore University Health System between 2006 and 2017.

“Over numerous decades, patients raised concerns about Dr Ortega. Whether it was to his schedule clerk, saying ‘I never want to see him again’ or a subsequent medical provider, nurse, physician of ‘that made my uncomfortable.’ Even in 2004 there was a police report made and there was no further action or investigation made. Hospitals need to be held responsible for inaction,” Stinar said.

In 2021, Ortega pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving two patients, yet Stinar said the hospitals continue to hide the full scope of his alleged abuse.

“They haven’t sent out notices to all their former patients, alerting them to you may have been sexually abused. They haven’t proactively come out and done anything along those lines. In my opinion they are continuing to cover this up,” said Stinar.

Endeavor Health, which owns Swedish Covenant and Northshore, told NBC 5 Investigates in a statement the company has "no tolerance for abuse of any kind."

“As a healthcare provider, there is nothing more important than providing a safe and trusted environment for our patients, community and team members," the statement read. "It’s a responsibility we take very seriously. We have absolutely no tolerance for abuse of any kind. We recognize the tremendous strength and courage it takes for survivors of abuse to come forward. We believe trust is earned, and we will always look for opportunities to demonstrate our commitment to the highest standards of safety and quality in our care.

"We have enhanced and continue to improve and evolve our processes and policies to ensure we have an environment that supports reporting of threatened or actual abuse," the statement continued. "Our policies require we investigate all allegations of abuse that are reported to us, take prompt action in all matters and fully cooperate with law enforcement. We have focused on reviewing individual claims and are committed to engaging in a process that allows for meaningful review and response to each person impacted. Due to pending legal matters and patient privacy, we are unable to comment on any specific case or allegations.”

One of the reasons Jane Doe said she hasn't revealed her identity is because her daughters don’t know what happened to her, and she said she doesn’t know how to tell them - or warn them.

“I used to have conversations with my daughters growing up. ‘Be careful. Don’t walk alone.’ How can you prevent or tell your daughters- be careful of your doctor?” she said. 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.

 
 

Dignity4Patients Commentary: All too often healthcare professionals use their White Coat or medical attire to get away with #SexualAbuse. Medical facilities need robust investigation procedures into all allegations of abuse with meaningful reviews and responses for #PatientProtection.

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