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California Women's Hospital Sued for Filming 1,800 Patients

Team of focused surgeon at work on operation in hospital. Medical team performing operation. Mature surgery staff in the operating room working on patient.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 03, 2019 | Last updated on April 04, 2019

Sharp Grossmont Hospital in El Cajon, California claims it was investigating employee theft of anesthesia drugs. So it installed motion-activated cameras on drug carts in three operating rooms at the facility. The only problem? Those three rooms were part of the women's health center, and the secret cameras recorded some 1,800 patients in various stages of undress, undergoing Cesarean births, hysterectomies, and sterilization and miscarriage procedures.

"At times, Defendants' patients had their most sensitive genital areas visible," according to a lawsuit filed against the hospital, "patients' faces were recorded, and the patients were identifiable." This isn't the first suit involving the video surveillance at Sharp Grossmont.

Patient Safety or Patient Surveillance?

Eighty-one women filed the potential class action lawsuit, and hundreds more could join. "It's universal shock from the patients, and disgust," according to their attorney, Allison Goddard. "They don't know how their videos might be used or who may have seen them because Sharp didn’t make sure that that would be taken care of." The hospital is allegedly still in possession of thousands of videos.

Representatives from Sharp HealthCare and Sharp Grossmont Hospital released a statement asserting the surveillance was set up "to ensure patient safety by determining the cause of drugs missing from the carts":

Between July 2012 and June 2013, Sharp Grossmont Hospital installed and operated one hidden camera on the anesthesia cart located in each of three operating rooms in the Women’s Center. The purpose of the three cameras was to ensure patient safety by determining the cause of drugs missing from the carts. An initial lawsuit alleging privacy violations and other claims stemming from the video recording was filed against Sharp HealthCare and Sharp Grossmont Hospital in 2016. The case remains active and Sharp is not in a position to comment further about the matter. Sharp HealthCare and Sharp Grossmont Hospital continue to take extensive measures to protect the privacy of its patients.

Privacy and Negligence

This lawsuit puts forth several invasion of privacy claims. And while Sharp spokesperson John Cihomsky told the New York Times that only a handful of authorized people in the company's security, legal and clinical departments reviewed the videos and that the "videos themselves are, and have always been, securely maintained," that lawsuit also charges the hospital with negligence for storing the videos on computers used by multiple people, some of which were not password protected.

Patient privacy, and breach, is a serious matter. If you think a medical provider has improperly recorded, used, or released your medical information, talk to an attorney immediately.

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