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Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Video Privacy Breach

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against San Diego’s Sharp Grossmont Hospital for breaching the privacy of thousands of patients during and after a covert surveillance operation into drug theft at the hospital.

Sharp Grossmont Hospital had installed hidden cameras in monitors in all three emergency rooms in the hospital in an attempt to obtain video evidence against a physician who was under investigation for the alleged theft of the sedative drug Propofol from operating room drug carts.

While it was not the intention of the hospital to film patients, video clips were recorded of patients giving birth and undergoing other medical procedures. According to the lawsuit, approximately 15,000 videos were captured in total, of which 6,966 have been retained by the hospital.

The hospital first installed the cameras in July 2012 as part of a year-long investigation into drug theft. The hidden cameras contained motion sensors which were triggered when individuals entered the operating rooms. The investigation ended in June 2013 and the cameras were removed.

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According to the lawsuit, more than 1,000 patients had given birth or undergone medical procedures during the time that the surveillance operation was being run.

The lawsuit was filed in superior court on Tuesday last week by Melissa Escalera, one of the patients who was captured on film giving birth by caesarian section.

According to the complainant, “videos captured women while they were emotionally and physically exposed, often naked with their most sensitive genital areas visible,” she also explained “[The] defendants breached the privacy rights of thousands of patients when they were at their most vulnerable,” as a result of their “overzealous pursuit of evidence against this employee.”

The videos were studied by security guards at the hospital as part of the covert operation. Some of the video footage showed a physician taking drugs off the cart and putting them in his pocket. The video footage was shared with the physician’s attorney, who advised the hospital that 14 of the clips he had been given showed patients undergoing procedures. Those videos have since been returned to the hospital.

Escalera is seeking class-certification and damages for the unlawful recording of confidential information, the negligent creation and maintenance of medical information, the unlawful disclosure of medical information, invasion of privacy, breach of confidentiality, breach of fiduciary duty, and the distribution of private sexually explicit materials.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.