Another 26 women sue Endeavor Health and gynecologist Fabio Ortega, convicted of sexual abuse

Another 26 women filed lawsuits against former gynecologist Dr. Fabio Ortega and Endeavor Health this week, with many alleging the doctor sexually assaulted them and that Endeavor failed to protect them.

A total of 60 former patients have now sued Ortega, Endeavor and/or Swedish Hospital, where Ortega previously worked.

Most of the 26 women behind the new lawsuits allege they saw Ortega for exams in 2017 — after Skokie police had already notified Endeavor they were investigating the doctor’s behavior because of a patient complaint. The lawsuits allege that Endeavor — formerly known as NorthShore University HealthSystem — never told the patients that Ortega was under criminal investigation, though police contacted the health system in early February 2017.

Most of the new lawsuits include allegations that Ortega fondled the women’s breasts “under the guise of performing a breast exam” and made inappropriate comments. One of the women alleges that he rubbed her clitoris and licked the inside of her leg. Another woman alleges that he told her during her exam, “If I was your husband, I would have sex with you every day.”

The 26 women who filed the new lawsuits all filed anonymously as “Jane Doe.”

Endeavor’s “institutional failures” resulted in the women “being subjected to medically unnecessary gynecological examinations by Ortega,” most of the new lawsuits allege.

Endeavor said in a statement Wednesday that it is unable to comment on pending litigation but said: “We remain committed to reviewing individual claims and engaging in a process that allows for meaningful response to each individual impacted to reach a supportive resolution.”

Attempts to reach Ortega for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

One of the women who sued Ortega and Endeavor this week told the Tribune she decided to take legal action in hopes of finding justice.

“I think that he should be held accountable as well as Endeavor,” the woman said, adding, “I think that the system itself has to do better, and hopefully the financial consequences for this system and Dr. Ortega will help them to do better.”

The Tribune generally does not identify survivors of alleged sexual assault without their permission.

In court Wednesday, two of the previously pending cases brought by former patients of Ortega cleared a legal hurdle and will continue moving forward. Attorneys for Ortega, Swedish and Endeavor had separately filed motions to dismiss the complaints brought by the patients, known as Jane Doe 36 and Jane Doe 47, arguing in part that the allegations were too old to be litigated. Cook County Circuit Judge Kathy Flanagan denied those motions.

Of the dozens of lawsuits filed against Ortega, Endeavor and/or Swedish in relation to Ortega, 23 have been settled for undisclosed amounts so far. Swedish is now part of the Endeavor Health system.

Ortega pleaded guilty in October 2021 to aggravated criminal sexual abuse of two former patients. He was sentenced to three years in prison and is required to remain on the state’s sex offender registry for life. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation revoked his medical license following the conviction.

A Chicago Tribune investigation revealed this year that Endeavor and several other well-known health systems throughout the state allowed health care workers accused of sexually abusing patients to continue providing care. In some cases, workers went on to face allegations of abuse from additional patients.

The Tribune found that Endeavor allowed Ortega to continue providing care despite multiple complaints from patients. Health systems appeared to face few consequences from the state for failing to remove abusive health care professionals, the investigation found.

Under state law, hospitals are required to report allegations of patient abuse to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which can trigger an investigation. The state does not require owners of private practices and clinics to notify the state’s health department of patient abuse allegations that occur outside of hospital walls. Gaps in state laws, as well as slow disciplinary action by the state’s licensing agency, allowed some doctors and other health care workers accused of abuse to continue working with patients for years, the Tribune found.

Attorneys Tamara Holder, Johanna Raimond and Stephan Blandin, who represent most of the women who have filed lawsuits, including 25 brought this week, have asked the Illinois attorney general and the office of outgoing Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to criminally investigate the troubled doctor and Endeavor, saying hundreds of additional women have come forward since Ortega pleaded guilty in 2021.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office said in a statement earlier this month that it encourages victims and their attorneys to work with law enforcement to investigate allegations. A spokesperson for the state’s attorney’s office said Wednesday the office had no updates. The Illinois attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Holder and her co-counsels say they have been retained by more than 200 former patients of Ortega’s. Attorneys Parker Stinar, Symone Shinton and Todd Stalmack with Stinar Gould Grieco & Hensley represent two patients who have filed lawsuits against Ortega and Endeavor and say they have also been retained by hundreds more.