By Bob Uphues
Three senior citizens, including at least two from Riverside, have filed a six-count class-action lawsuit in the Chancery Division of Cook County Circuit Court against MacNeal Hospital, claiming the institution's failure to safeguard personal information led to their homes being burglarized by a former nurse assistant.
The plaintiffs, who range in age from 78 to 93, allege that the hospital also failed to inform all of the victims of its failure to protect their information in a timely manner.
That personal information was allegedly accessed by 32-year-old Erik Albavera, a former hospital employee who is now serving a 10-year sentence in state prison after pleading guilty to nine counts of burglary last November.
The scheme according to police officials was for Albavera to access patient information and then to burglarize their homes while they were in patient at MacNeal.
"MacNeal Hospital's conduct constituted, at a minimum, gross negligence that show wanton disregard [for] the rights of the plaintiffs and class members regarding the safeguarding of their sensitive personal information," the complaint states.
Loyola Medicine, which purchased MacNeal Hospital earlier this year from for-profit Tenet Healthcare, said the Berwyn hospital's prior owner would be litigating the case and directed questions to Tenet's media relations office.
Tenet Healthcare did not respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit prior to the Landmark's press time.
In addition to failing to safeguard patients' sensitive personal information, MacNeal Hospital is accused of intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the victims by failing to disclose its failure to protect their information in a timely manner.
At least one of the plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit, "has repeatedly lost sleep due to anxiety over the burglary" and all of the plaintiffs have experienced "heightened anxiety" due to their homes being burglarized and during subsequent hospital visits.
The three senior citizens are being represented by Chicago attorney Karl Leinberger.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed April 19, Albavera may have victimized as many as 18 people in all. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages for actual losses and punitive damages, as well as court costs and attorneys' fees.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel told the Landmark last year that Albavera would befriend senior citizens in the hospital emergency room and would visit them in their rooms, determining whether or not they lived alone or had family nearby.
The lawsuit claims Albavera "used his improper access to sensitive personal information to identify which plaintiffs and class members were currently patients at MacNeal Hospital and lived alone, as well as their addresses."
While the victims recuperated in the hospital, Albavera would break into their homes and steal items.
According to the lawsuit, Albavera worked at MacNeal Hospital during at least a portion of 2016 and 2017 as a nurse assistant, and that his job did not require him to access most of a patient's sensitive personal information.
During their investigation, police established that all of the victims were patients at MacNeal Hospital, were senior citizens and lived alone. Police set up surveillance at a potential target's home and apprehended Albavera on Feb. 9, 2017, after he tried to force open the rear door of a Berwyn home.
The lawsuit proposes that the class-action pool include anyone who was a patient at MacNeal Hospital from April 13, 2013 through Feb. 28, 2017, whose information Albavera accessed.