Five more women sue former NorthShore gynecologist

Another five women have filed lawsuits alleging that a former NorthShore University HealthSystem obstetrician/gynecologist sexually assaulted them as patients — with the allegations spanning three decades.

The women filed six lawsuits in recent weeks in Cook County Circuit Court against Dr. Fabio Ortega. Ortega pleaded guilty in October to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving two of his former patients. Ortega, 75, is now in prison.

Attempts to reach Ortega’s attorney for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.

Ortega now faces more than a dozen lawsuits, with many of those lawsuits also naming NorthShore as a defendant and others naming Swedish Hospital as a defendant, said Tamara Holder, an attorney representing the women. The lawsuits allege the hospital systems failed to protect patients from Ortega, who worked for Swedish before moving to NorthShore, and Swedish has since become part of NorthShore.

NorthShore has already settled several other lawsuits filed against it and Ortega, Holder said.

“Since this is a pending legal matter, we are unable to comment on any individual claims,” NorthShore said in a statement Thursday. “We take such matters seriously and have thorough processes in place to review and respond to any such patient allegations.”

The women who filed the recent lawsuits, who are referred to in the suits as Jane Does 33 through 37, allege that, in some cases, Ortega asked them inappropriate questions during their visits and, in all cases, sexually assaulted them.

They all realized they had been sexually assaulted after seeing news reports about Ortega pleading guilty to sexual abuse last year, according to the complaints.

The alleged incidents in the new lawsuits occurred over decades, beginning in the 1990s. One woman is 29 and lives in Norridge; another is 55 in Waukegan; another 41 in Chicago; another 67 in Evanston; and the last is 38 in Elk Grove Village.

“Ortega engaged in a pattern or practice of disguising his sexual assaults as necessary medical care through a variety of techniques,” according to the complaints.

The lawsuits allege that NorthShore and Swedish should have known what Ortega was doing, such as through patient surveys or through red flags such as an unusual number of pelvic exams performed by Ortega.

Several of the lawsuits allege that between at least 2012 and 2017, NorthShore received at least six complaints from female patients of Ortega’s saying that he “engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct or otherwise made them feel uncomfortable.” NorthShore “failed to conduct reasonable and/or competent investigations into these complaints,” according to the lawsuits.

In February 2017, the Skokie police notified NorthShore that they were conducting a criminal investigation into whether Ortega had sexually assaulted patients, yet NorthShore continued to schedule patients for Ortega for the next six months, according to the lawsuits.

NorthShore has declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the end of Ortega’s employment.

Ortega was arrested in September 2018 by Skokie police and originally charged with one count of criminal sexual assault. Ortega’s medical license was also suspended in 2018 for “engaging in sexual misconduct with (a) patient of his practice,” according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

Ortega pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving two of his former patients in October and was sentenced to three years in prison, with credit for 170 days that he’d already been under electronic monitoring.

During that court hearing, one of Ortega’s former patients described suffering from depression and anxiety, saying, “I’m a shell of my former self.” The Tribune does not name victims of sexual abuse without their permission.

In October, Ortega told the court: “As a physician, I have never intended to hurt anyone. Never, never. I sincerely apologize to the women who felt that I acted inappropriately.”

The lawsuits seek damages in excess of $50,000 each and attorneys fees.

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