San Diego, California: Sharp Grossmont Hospital secretly video recorded 1,800 patients using hidden cameras at the women’s health center in El Cajon, according to a lawsuit filed late Friday afternoon. The recordings took place between July 17, 2012 and June 30, 2013 inside three Labor and Delivery operating rooms at the facility located at 5555 Grossmont Center Dr. in El Cajon, the plaintiffs claim.
Among the video recordings captured by hidden cameras: Caesarean births, hysterectomies, sterilizations, dilatation and curettage to resolve miscarriages, and other procedures, according to court documents.
Women were also recorded undressing, the lawsuit says.
According to court documents, the hospital claims the recordings were part of an investigation “into whether an employee was stealing the anesthesia drug propofol from drug carts in the operating rooms.”
The suit states that the motion-activated cameras were installed on drug carts in each of the three operating rooms at the women’s health center, but the cameras continued to record after motion stopped.
Because of the angle and placement of the devices, the suit says “patients’ faces were recorded, and the patients were identifiable.”
“At times, Defendants’ patients had their most sensitive genital areas visible,” the lawsuit states.
Multiple users, including non-medical personnel and strangers, had access to the recordings on desktop computers, the lawsuit claims, and that Sharp “did not log or track who accessed the recordings, why, or when.”
“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 operation being performed,” the lawsuit cites an unnamed Sharp executive as saying.
“Plaintiffs suffered harm including, but not limited to, suffering, anguish, fright, horror, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shock, humiliation, embarrassment, shame, mortification, hurt feelings, disappointment, depression and feelings of powerlessness,” the lawsuit claims.
Plaintiffs believe Sharp destroyed “at least half” of the recordings but cannot confirm the files are not otherwise recoverable. Computers used for storage were replaced or refreshed, but Sharp did not ensure proper deletion of recordings, according to the lawsuit.
Sharp HealthCare and Sharp Grossmont Hospital are named in the lawsuit, along with the possibility of more defendants in the future once their names and capacities are known.
Officials at Sharp HealthCare confirmed that 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,” Sharp HealthCare officials said.
“A 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 officials said.
“Sharp HealthCare and Sharp Grossmont Hospital continue to take extensive measures to protect the privacy of its patients,” Sharp HealthCare officials said.
The complaint for damages includes a demand for jury trial on charges of invasion of privacy, negligence, unlawful recording of confidential information, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and breach of fiduciary privacy.
As it did in 2016, Sharp HealthCare, the hospital’s nonprofit parent company, acknowledged in a statement Tuesday that it installed the motion-activated cameras and computer monitors, saying they were meant to catch the thief or thieves responsible for the disappearance of a powerful anesthetic from drug carts.
“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 medical company said.
“We sincerely regret that our efforts to ensure medication security may have caused any distress to those we serve,” it said, adding that images taken by the cameras “were used for this particular case only and have not been used again.”
“I am a mom of four girls. I lead by example,” Jessica Lincoln, the lead complainant, told reporters. “I’m a pretty black-and-white person as far as what is right and what is wrong, and this is wrong.”
Another complainant, Melissa Escalera, said she was secretly recorded while giving birth to her daughter by emergency cesarean section.
“When I arrived in an ambulance and was wheeled into the operating room on a gurney, my concern was with my daughter, who was in distress and coming six weeks early,” Escalera said.
“I was not planning on having a baby that September 4th day,” she said. “It was a highly stressful and emotional time for my family and my doctor. No one ever asked me to record one of my most tender, life-changing moments.
“I would have never agreed to be recorded in that vulnerable moment,” she said.
Sharp said it couldn’t comment further because of the litigation.