Hospital Apologizes to Women Who Were Secretly Filmed

April 7, 2019 Updated: April 7, 2019

LA MESA, Calif.—A Southern California hospital issued an apology to the women who claimed they were secretly filmed during gynecological surgeries.

More than 80 women sued Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa last week, alleging they were recorded by motion-activated cameras set up in three operating rooms as part of an effort to catch a possible drug thief, KNSD-TV reported.

As part of the class-action lawsuit first filed three years ago, one woman claimed she was recorded while giving birth by emergency caesarean section.

“No one ever asked me to record one of my most tender, life-changing moments,” Melissa Escalera told the station. “I would have never agreed to be recorded in that vulnerable moment.”

The hospital near San Diego said in a letter Thursday, April 4, that the cameras set up in 2012 and 2013 were intended to record only individuals in front of the anesthesia carts. However, the letter said patients and medical personnel were at times visible to the cameras and recorded without sound.

Through the investigation, hospital officials identified the person they believed was stealing drugs and that person no longer works there.

The hospital said it has stopped using this surveillance method and that the videos are kept in a secured safe and only released in response to the legal processes or specific patient requests.

“We sincerely apologize that our efforts may have caused any distress to the women who were recorded, their families, and others we serve,” the letter said.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit, which was filed by 81 patients on March 29, alleges Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa of installing hidden motion-detecting sensor cameras on drug carts in all three labor and delivery operating rooms at the women’s center between July 2012 and June 2013. When triggered, the cameras would begin recording and would continue even after motion has stopped, the complaint said (pdf).

These cameras have recorded videos of deliveries, birth complications, and other medical procedures, the complaint states. Moreover, cameras also allegedly captured patients when engaging in discussions with their doctors and medical staff, while partially robed on the operating table, or when undressing for procedures. It also said the angle and placement of the cameras caused patients’ faces to be records, making them identifiable.

In total, the hospital allegedly filmed about 1,800 patients during that period.

Allison Goddard, the lawyer representing the women in the case, told The New York Times that the hospital is still in possession of thousands of videos.

The cameras recorded female patients at the hospital’s Women’s Health Center as they consulted with physicians, got…

Posted by The New York Times on Tuesday, April 2, 2019

“It’s universal shock from the patients and disgust,” Goddard said. “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 complaint also stated that in addition to breaching the women’s privacy by filming them without consent, the hospital was grossly negligent with how they maintained the recordings.

doctor does ultrasound
In an illustration photo, a doctor performs an ultrasound on a pregnant woman during her visit to a gynecologist. (Jennifer Jacobs/AFP/Getty Images)

“The recordings were stored on desktop computers that could be accessed by multiple users, some without the need for a password. Sharp did not log or track who accessed the recordings, why, or when,” the plaintiff’s alleged.

The plaintiffs said the hospital has destroyed at least half of the recordings but cannot say when or how it deleted those files and cannot confirm that it took the appropriate steps to ensure the files were not recoverable.

“Computers that stored the recordings were ‘refreshed’ or replaced, and Sharp did not ensure proper deletion of recordings on those computers,” the complaint stated.

Sharp said that they “take extensive measures to protect the privacy of our patients.”

“The surveillance methods in the 2012-13 investigation were used for this particular case only and have not been used again,” the hospital said in their statement.

A class-action lawsuit regarding the recordings and privacy of the patients was filed against the hospital in 2016 and still pending, the hospital said. According to Buzzfeed, the court refused to certify the class—a process to combine multiple similar lawsuits together so that it proceeds as part of one larger case.

Moreover, the court also denied the hospital’s motion for summary judgment. As a result, 81 women decided to refile the case last week. More women are expected to join the lawsuit, according to Goddard.

Epoch Times reporter Janita Kan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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