Hundreds of Women Exposed in Widespread HIPAA Violation at Sharp Grossmont Hospital
A class action lawsuit has been filed in San Diego County Superior Court against Sharp Grossmont Hospital of La Mesa/El Cajon, CA over secret filming of female patients that went on in all three of Sharp’s women’s center operating rooms from July 2012 through June 2013.
The women were recorded when they were most physically and emotionally vulnerable while undergoing sensitive procedures such as giving birth, emergency caesarean sections, birth complications, treatment for miscarriages, hysterectomies, and many others. Many of the videos show female patients that are unconscious and undressed on operating room tables with their genitals exposed.
According to the hospital, the videos were recorded in an effort to catch a drug thief. However, the videos were recorded without the patients’ consent, which is a violation of the patients’ confidentiality. Patients have a right to privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and sharing information without the consent of the patient is a HIPAA violation.
How Many Women were Recorded?
The hospital reportedly installed motion-activated cameras in all three women’s operating rooms as part of an internal investigation into the theft of propofol, an anesthesia drug. The cameras were secretly recording everything that happened in these rooms from July 17, 2012 through June 30, 2013. During that time, more than 1800 patients were recorded undergoing various procedures. The positions of the laptop cameras were such that, not only were the patients’ most sensitive genital areas visible at times, the faces of the patients could be seen as well. This means that patients could likely be identified by the video recordings if they were to show up somewhere.
Where did the Video Recordings End Up?
HIPAA compliance violations for filming highly sensitive videos without the consent of the patients is not the only breach that occurred with these recordings. There is also the fact that the hospital did not take reasonable steps to keep these videos secured. The video recordings were stored on desktop computers without password protection, and they were able to be accessed by multiple individuals, including medical and non-medical staff as well as subcontractors and others who did not work for the hospital that had access to these computers.
The hospital never bothered to implement controls to keep track of which individuals accessed these videos and for what purpose they were being accessed. Given the sensitive nature of the content of these videos and the accompanying privacy concerns, the hospital owed a duty to these women to take reasonable steps to protect their privacy by keeping these videos secured. Instead, it appears that the hospital handled them casually and with little regard for the privacy rights of their patients.
Since 2013, Sharp Grossmont has replaced and refreshed many of the desktop computers on which the videos were stored. In addition, many of the 15,000 or so videos that were recorded in the women’s operating rooms during the July 2012 – June 2013 timeframe have been destroyed.
It is unclear what has happened to the old computers, whether or not the files on those computers were securely erased, and if they could potentially be recovered.
And because the videos could be accessed without any type of password or security code, no one knows for sure who saw them, where they are, where they landed, or what will eventually happen to them. For all we know, these videos could be floating around on the internet somewhere. Without the ability to track down who gained access to them, no one knows for sure.
Because of the unlawful recording of video footage without the patients’ consent, failure to properly secure the videos, and destruction of these videos, Sharp Grossmont has not only violated the privacy of approximately 1800 women, they have also breached their fiduciary duty to protect these women and negligently inflicted all types of emotional harm; including but not limited to suffering, anguish, worry, anxiety, nervousness, shock, horror, grief, humiliation, embarrassment, shame, depression, and feelings of powerlessness.
Women who were affected by this breach of privacy are encouraged to join the Sharp Grossmont Hospital privacy lawsuit by getting in touch with Garmo and Garmo today. Dozens of women have already signed on to the lawsuit, and together, we can help ensure that Sharp Grossmont is held fully accountable for this egregious conduct, and that privacy violations like this are never repeated in the future.
Were you Treated at Sharp Grossmont Hospital between July 2012 and June 2013? Call Garmo and Garmo to Discuss your Legal Rights
If you or someone you know delivered a baby or had any surgical procedure at Sharp Grossmont Hospital Women’s Health Center (5555 Grossmont Center Drive, La Mesa, CA 91942) from July 2012 through June 2013, you may have been videotaped without your knowledge or consent. Call Garmo and Garmo today at 619-441-2500 or message us through our online contact form to speak with one of our attorneys. You may also stop by our El Cajon office in person at your convenience.
According to the lawsuit, the hospital installed video cameras in three operating rooms as part of an internal investigation into the theft of the anaesthesia drug, propofol, from drug carts. The cameras were actively recording between July 17, 2012 and June 30, 2013 at its facility on Grossmont Center Drive in El Cajon, San Diego.
During the time that the cameras were recording 1,800 patients were filmed undergoing procedures such as hysterectomies, Caesarean births, dilation and curettage for miscarriages, and other surgical procedures. The motion-activated cameras had been installed on drug carts and continued to record even after motion had stopped.
A spokesperson for Sharp Grossmont Hospital confirmed that three cameras had been installed to ensure patient safety by determining the cause of missing drugs from the carts.
The lawsuit states that, “At times, defendants’ patients had their most sensitive genital areas visible.” The position of the laptop cameras was such that patients’ faces could be seen in the recordings and, as such, patients could be identified from the recordings.