More than 80 women have filed a lawsuit against Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa alleging they were secretly recorded while undergoing medical procedures in labor and delivery operating rooms.
Patients were filmed without their consent in three private rooms from July 2012 to June 2013, according to the lawsuit filed last week in San Diego County Superior Court. The women allege hidden cameras filmed approximately 1,800 patients undergoing medical procedures — including births, dilatation and curettage to resolve miscarriages, and hysterectomies.
“There are images contained within the multitude of images of women undergoing operations of a very personal, private nature, unconscious and in states of exposure depending on the operating being performed,” the lawsuit alleges.
Allison Goddard, the lawyer representing the 81 plaintiffs, said one video shows a patient being wheeled into an operating room for an emergency caesarean section. Goddard said the video shows the woman being prepared for surgery with her gown tucked under her breasts. It shows her exposed stomach and thighs and, after the delivery of the baby, a nurse massaging the woman’s uterus to expel any blood clots.
The women, who are seeking unspecified monetary damages, say they suffered anxiety, humiliation, embarrassment, shame, depression and feelings of powerlessness after they learned of the recordings.
The lawsuit claims the hospital was grossly negligent in managing the recordings, which were allegedly stored on desktop computers that could be accessed without a password. The hospital’s parent company, Sharp HealthCare, also destroyed some of the recordings, but can’t say when, how, or if the appropriate steps were taken to make sure the files were properly deleted and unrecoverable, according to the lawsuit.
In a statement, the hospital said that it installed motion-activated cameras in each of Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s three Women’s Center operating rooms between July 2012 and June 2013 as part of an internal investigation into theft of drugs from anesthesia carts.
The hospital said that while patients were not the focus of the recordings, they were often picked up in the background.
“Although the cameras were intended to record only individuals in front of the anesthesia carts removing drugs, others, including patients and medical personnel in the operating rooms, were at times visible to the cameras and recorded,” the hospital said in a statement.
Goddard said a class-action lawsuit against Sharp HealthCare and Sharp Grossmont Hospital alleging privacy violations involving the recordings has been pending since 2016. After the class-action suit wasn’t certified, Goddard’s team moved forward with the new lawsuit.
Goddard said the first patients who learned they were secretly recorded were notified by Sharp HealthCare after their images were released to third-party personnel as part of a 2016 proceeding before the Medical Board of California involving the doctor accused of stealing from the hospital’s carts.
In a declaration from that 2016 proceeding, attorneys for the hospital noted the video clips depicted “patients in their most vulnerable state, under anesthesia, exposed and undergoing medical procedures … in an area that is not open/accessible to the public.”
“We sincerely regret that our efforts to ensure medication security may have caused any distress to those we serve,” the health care provider said in a statement, adding the surveillance methods used for the 2012-13 investigation have not been used again.