Attorneys call on AG’s office to criminally investigate former doctor Fabio Ortega and health systems where he worked

Attorneys representing former patients of OB-GYN Fabio Ortega are calling on the Illinois attorney general and the office of outgoing Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to criminally investigate the troubled doctor and the health systems where he worked.

The request came the same day that one of the women who is suing Ortega and Swedish Covenant Health spoke publicly for the first time, saying she wants justice for herself and others who allege Ortega harmed them.

“I’m not afraid of him,” Ericka Matos said of Ortega, at a news conference Wednesday. “I’m not crying anymore like I used to. I’m strong right now. I want justice for me and for the rest of the ladies.”

Cook County prosecutors charged Ortega with criminal sexual assault of two patients in 2018 and 2019. The former gynecologist pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of both patients in October 2021, and a judge sentenced him to three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. He received credit for 170 days served pretrial and was released after one year in prison in 2022.

Attorneys representing more than 30 women who alleged in civil court that Ortega sexually assaulted them during exams and appointments at Endeavor locations, and, before that, at Swedish Hospital, are urging Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and the state’s attorney’s office to further investigate the doctor and the health systems where he worked. Though Ortega pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two former patients, additional women also complained to police, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

The attorneys noted in their letter to those offices that the “landscape has changed” since Ortega pleaded guilty in 2021 to sexually abusing two of his patients, with hundreds of additional women coming forward.

Attorneys Tamara Holder, Johanna Raimond and Stephan Blandin, who authored Wednesday’s letter, said they have been retained by more than 200 former patients of Ortega. Attorneys Parker Stinar and Symone Shinton, with Stinar Gould Grieco & Hensley, said they represent another 300 of Ortega’s former patients and held a separate news conference last week.

“So many other women have not gotten justice, not from the criminal justice system, not from NorthShore University HealthSystem, which is now Endeavor Health, not from Swedish Covenant Health, and not from Fabio Ortega,” Raimond said at the news conference Wednesday. “We’re here today to request that justice.”

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office said in a statement Wednesday that it “takes all allegations of sexual assault with the utmost seriousness.

“We encourage victims and their counsel to collaborate with law enforcement to investigate any allegations, who will then bring the evidence to the CCSAO for review for potential charges,” the office said in the statement.

The Illinois attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon. Attempts to reach Ortega for comment were also unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon.

Endeavor said in a statement Wednesday that “there is nothing more important than providing a safe and trusted environment for our patients, community and team members. … We have absolutely no tolerance for abuse of any kind.”

Endeavor noted in the statement that Ortega has not worked there in more than six years and said the “past events that have been reported are incredibly upsetting and concerning.”

“Since these events, we underwent a rigorous process to review and enhance our policies across all of our hospitals and care sites to ensure we have an environment that supports reporting of threatened or actual abuse, including review by a system-wide oversight committee,” Endeavor said in the statement. “We investigate all allegations of abuse that are reported to us, take prompt action in all matters and fully cooperate with law enforcement.” Swedish is now part of the Endeavor system.

A Chicago Tribune investigation earlier this year documented Endeavor Health’s role in allowing Ortega to continue working despite complaints. The investigation revealed that other well-known health systems also allowed health care professionals accused of sexual misconduct to continue working with patients. Under state law, hospitals are supposed to report allegations of patient abuse to the Illinois Department of Public Health. When hospitals failed to do so, the Tribune investigation found, few meaningful consequences followed.

Allegations of patient abuse that occur outside of hospitals, such as at clinics, are not required to be reported to the state. As a result of that and other gaps in state laws and a state licensing agency that can be slow to take disciplinary action, the Tribune found that doctors and other health care workers accused of sexual misconduct sometimes continued working with patients for months or years.

As a result of the reporting, the Illinois Department of Public Health and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, have said they are working on legislation to address gaps in state laws identified by the Tribune. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees many medical professionals, is also participating in drafting the legislation.

A bill has not yet been proposed in Springfield. But according to a summary of the potential legislation shared by Cassidy’s office, the bill would require all hospital affiliates — including clinics such as the one where Ortega worked — to report allegations of provider abuse or misconduct within 24 hours to the state health department, and it would impose financial penalties on hospitals that fail to report allegations.

It would also require leaders of medical corporations, which include organizations not necessarily tied to hospitals, to report sexual misconduct by licensed health care professionals to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation within 24 hours.

Holder and her co-counsels are working with the representative on the bill. Raimond said the legislation, if signed into law, would ensure that health systems “do not continue to ignore the warning signs that they have a predator in their midst.”

Matos, one of the women who is suing Ortega and Swedish, said Wednesday that she wants justice.

In the civil lawsuit she refiled Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court, Matos alleged that over the course of several appointments in the 1990s the doctor performed vaginal exams without medical gloves, instructed her to squeeze his finger while it was inserted in her vagina, and at one appointment asked her questions about her sexual fantasies and orgasms.

Matos is the first woman to file a lawsuit alleging Ortega sexually assaulted her, using her name.

Matos originally filed a suit against Ortega and Swedish in 2019 using the pseudonym Jane Doe 1, but voluntarily dismissed the suit last year so her attorneys could focus on a different case that was set for trial.