Illinois lawmakers pass bill to expand reporting of sexual abuse

The Illinois legislature has passed a bill that would require more health care facilities to report allegations of patient abuse to the state— a measure that follows a Tribune investigation into the issue.

Under the bill, doctors’ offices and clinics affiliated with hospitals would have to report allegations of patient abuse to the Illinois Department of Public Health, triggering an investigation by the state. Now, hospitals must only report allegations that happen at hospitals.

The House unanimously passed the bill Tuesday night. The Senate also previously passed the bill unanimously. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill Wednesday morning.

The bill comes several months after a Tribune investigation found that well-known health systems allowed workers accused of sexually abusing patients to continue providing care, and, in some cases, those same health care workers were then accused of abusing additional patients.

As part of the investigation, the Tribune also detailed the role Endeavor Health played in allowing former obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Fabio Ortega to continue working despite complaints from patients. Some of the complaints against him involved alleged incidents that happened at Endeavor affiliated doctors’ offices — outside hospital walls.

Ortega has faced lawsuits from more than 60 patients accusing him of sexual assault or abuse, and he pleaded guilty in 2021 to aggravated criminal sexual abuse of two patients. Most of the patients who filed those lawsuits also accuse the health systems where Ortega worked of failing to protect them.

The Illinois Hospital Association and the Illinois Department of Public Health both collaborated with Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who originally proposed the bill. Attorneys representing dozens of women who have filed suit against Ortega also worked with Cassidy on the bill.

One of those attorneys, Tamara Holder, who represents most of the women who have sued Ortega and Endeavor along with her co-counsels Johanna Raimond and Stephan Blandin, called the bill’s passage “a huge victory.”

Attorney Tamara Holder Zooms with staff from her home office on Jan.9, in Chicago. Holder represents more than 100 women who allege to have been sexually assaulted by Dr. Fabio Ortega. She called the bill’s passage “a huge victory.” (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)

“Women are going to finally be heard when they complain about doctor misconduct in an office or outside of a hospital setting where doctor patient abuse predominantly occurs,” Holder said.

During the legislative session Tuesday night Cassidy told her colleagues in the House that the bill closes an existing loophole in the law. “We have more work to do to make sure that patients are safe in health care situations, but this is an important first start,” she said.

The bill’s senate sponsor Karina Villa (D-West Chicago) called the bill a “strong step” toward preventing future patient abuse in a news release after the measure passed through the chamber over the weekend.

Carrie Ward, CEO of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the bill is an “important expansion” of reporting requirements.

Tribune reporting also identified several hospitals that had not reported patient allegations of abuse to the state’s health department as required. Those facilities appeared to face few consequences as a result.

The investigation revealed that gaps in state laws and slow action by the state agency responsible for disciplining licensed health care providers sometimes resulted in doctors and other health care workers continuing to provide care for months or years after patients alleged sexual misconduct.

Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation spokesperson Chris Slaby said in a statement that the agency, which oversees licensing and discipline for health care professionals, is working on additional reforms with legislators, and “plans to pursue legislation in the fall veto session.”

Jeremy Gorner contributed to this report.

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