privacy rights, HIPAA, lawsuit, Sharp Grossman Hospital, exposed women, secret recordings

Lawsuit Filed Against California Hospital for Secretly Filming Women in Delivery Rooms

Two years prior, a staff whistleblower said he was forced to resign when he called out the hospital for re-installing cameras after they claimed to have stopped recording.

Eighty-one women have filed a class action lawsuit against a Southern California hospital for not protecting their privacy in delivery rooms. Up to 1,800 women were impacted.

Recordings filmed activity in three labor and delivery rooms at the Women’s Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, Calif., over a period of more than 11 months, beginning in summer 2012.

Women were shown partially exposed, delivering babies, and even unconscious in the tapes.

The lawsuit states “patients’ faces were recorded, and the patients were identifiable” and “at times, Defendants’ patients had their most sensitive genital areas visible.”

Non-medical staff and strangers had access to the footage— there were no logs.

The hospital said, in a statement, the recording took place in order to catch a drug thief. They said the footage was destroyed, but didn’t indicate how. They also didn’t confirm that the recordings would not be recoverable.

After they eventually identified the staff member who was stealing drugs, it seems the hospital secretly turned the cameras back on.

In 2017, the former chief of anesthesiology said the hospital administrators re-installed secret cameras again to record patients and doctors during surgeries without consent.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan  filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court against the hospital saying he “discovered that Sharp placed cameras in the rims of computer monitors in all three of the Women’s Center operating rooms, in all 12 of the main operating rooms, and in all six of the SGSC (Sharp Grossmont Surgical Center) operating rooms. Dr. Sullivan believed that Sharp was once again secretly recording patients in the operating rooms.”

He documented his 48-page complaint and says he was forced to resign.

John Cihomsky, Sharp Healthcare’s vice president of public relations and communications, says Sullivan left voluntarily.

The current lawsuit claims: “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.”

Jessica Lincoln, who also says she was secretly recorded, is worried about what could happen to the recordings.

“There’s images floating around somewhere, potentially viewed or could be viewed in the future, without my permission,” she said.

Cihomsky said, “We sincerely regret that our efforts to ensure medication security may have caused distress to those we serve.”

Studies suggest that patients who believe that their privacy will be respected are more likely to seek treatment, discuss problems openly, and return for follow-up care. This violation of privacy likely breeds fear of going to medical professionals.

Violations of privacy are not uncommon in healthcare.

The Office for Civil Rights, the arm of the Department of Health and Human Services responsible for enforcing the law, receives more than 30,000 reports about privacy violations each year.

As of July 31, 2018, the OCR had received more than 186,453 HIPAA complaints and imposed penalties in 55 cases for a total of $78,829,182.

Four hospitals in Boston paid over $1.23 million in 2018 to settle claims that included compromised patient privacy during a documentary filming, as well as data breaches exposing protected health information of more than 15,000 state residents.

Minnesota-based Fairview Southdale Hospital violated patient privacy rights in 2018 by taping patients without their knowledge or consent during psychiatric evaluations in the emergency room.

Health providers are publicly listed by the OCR and have to notify the media and all affected parties when breaches affecting at least 500 people occur, but any others may not get the same publicity without a massive lawsuit.

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