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300 women join lawsuit filed against Chicago-area health system after gynecologist accused of sexual abuse

300 former patients sue hospital system over sex abuse by OB/GYN
300 former patients sue hospital system over sex abuse by OB/GYN 03:16

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A total of 300 women filed a lawsuit against a Chicago OB/GYN employed for decades by NorthShore University Health System and Swedish Hospital. 

Fabio Ortega, 77, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two patients in October 2021. He is now a registered sex offender. He was sentenced to three years in prison time and has been off parole since October of last year.

The civil lawsuit details alleged sex abuse stemming back to the early 1990s, and some of the details are quite disturbing.

"Swedish and NorthShore enabled this sexual predator to abuse hundreds of women for numerous decades," said Parker Stinar, an attorney and founding partner at Stinar Gould Grieco & Hensley.

The lawsuit said Ortega worked at what was then known as Swedish Covenant Hospital between approximately 1989 and 2007. During that time, he had "a pattern or practice of disguising his sexual abuses as necessary medical care through a variety of techniques."

"At all relevant times herein, Ortega was a sexual predator who targeted young women who did not have experience with gynecological examinations, Spanish-speaking patients, pregnant women, Medicare patients, and the underserved patient population because he knew that patients from these populations were less likely to understand that they were being sexually abused," the lawsuit said.

He is accused in the lawsuit of sexually abusing girls as young as 14.

Lawsuit: Chicago hospital enabled OB/GYN to sexually abuse hundreds of women 02:54

Some of the sexual abuse detailed in the complaint includes claims that Ortega would visit or call his patients outside of work, wouldn't treat them for conditions presented, falsified records, encouraged unnecessary appointments, conducted unnecessary pelvic exams, and asked patients intrusive questions about their sex life.

 "An employee reported to her supervisor that Ortega wasn't just making female patients feel uncomfortable - he was also making the nursing staff feel uncomfortable," said Symone Shinton, partner at Stinar Gould Grieco & Hensley.

The lawsuit said despite the dangers Ortega posed to patients, NorthShore and Swedish continued to present him to the public as a skilled and trustworthy gynecologist – while the complaints were ignored and the sexual abuse was allowed to continue.

"Women reported that Ortega's examinations felt more sexual than medical, but they didn't have the medical expertise to know one way or the other," Shinton said. "Women reported. They reported again and again and again – and each time, they were met with not only disbelief by Swedish and NorthShore – they were told to question their very experiences as women."

Shinton recounted one story from a former patient who is suing. She said this woman had gone to see Dr. Ortega because she had been raped.

"One of our clients found herself in Dr. Ortega's office in 2016 because she required a rape kit. She had just been raped, and she was able to muster the strength to seek medical treatment. NorthShore provided her with Dr. Ortega. In that appointment, Dr. Ortega would conduct a vaginal examination where he attempted to sexually stimulate her with involved fingers. He would conduct a breast examination where he fondled her for no medical purpose," said Shinton, "and this miracle of a woman still managed to walk outside of that medical examination room and ask the front desk if what happened to her was medically necessary – 'I don't understand why I needed a breast examination.' NorthShore told her that's how he is. It's normal."

Endeavor Health responds to sex abuse claims

A spokesperson for Endeavor Health said the health system couldn't respond to direct questions about the case due to pending legal matters and patient privacy, but did release this statement:

"As a healthcare provider, there is nothing more important than providing a safe and trusted environment for our patients, community and team members. 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. 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."

A key point was made in the complaint that was not addressed by the hospital system. Specifically, Ortega was allowed to continue to practice medicine unsupervised while the criminal investigation that landed him in jail continued. During that time, he is accused of sexually abusing *more patients who are represented in the lawsuit.

The Illinois Department of Corrections said Ortega was placed on mandatory supervised release, or parole, on Oct. 28, 2022, and was discharged from parole on Oct. 27, 2023.

Ortega's medical license was revoked, and he can no longer practice medicine.

CBS 2 has other questions for the State of Illinois that were still pending late Tuesday.

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