Update February 23, 2017 - Hear our interview with Dr. Patrick Sullivan, originally aired on KNSJ 89.1 FM radio, by clicking the audio link.
Dr. Patrick Sullivan alleges he was harassed into resigning after blowing the whistle on secret videotaping of female patients and other concerns; hospital denies wrongdoing
East County News Service
February 5, 2017 (La Mesa) – Dr. Patrick Sullivan, an anesthesiologist with 25 years’ experience locally, has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against Sharp Grossmont Hospital and retained a high-powered trial lawyer.
Sullivan alleges that he was harassed into resigning in January 2016 after discovering hidden cameras in operating rooms videotaping women undergoing surgeries including childbirth and battling to get them removed. Sullivan also asserts that the hospital was under-staffed, engaged in mismanagement, and failed to provide access to life-saving medications.
In a press release issued by his attorney, Sullivan states he was stripped of committee memberships, falsely accused of poor patient care and falsely accused of touching a nurse inappropriately, then “forced out simply for standing up for good patient care and against the illegal surreptitious videotaping of female patients, gross understaffing and many other patient safety violations” which he calls “unconscionable.”
He says he is primarily standing up for patients to assure quality care and accuses Grossmont of putting “profits before people.” He adds he is also taking a stand to stop intimidation and harassment of medical staff as well as under staffing.
Last year, revelations that Sharp Grossmont Hospital secretly taped women in operating rooms in an effort to catch a physician suspected of stealing drugs led to a lawsuit filed by a patient over privacy violations. (View her complaint) Sharp apologized for inadvertently turning over videos showing women undressed to state regulators and an attorney for Dr. Adam Dorin, an anesthesiologist accused of pocketing drugs.
Other doctors attested that the hospital had a shortage of the critical drugs, so doctors routinely stashed supplies elsewhere on hospital premises for use in emergencies. The Medical Board of California dropped a complaint of wrongdoing. Dr. Dorin resigned from Grossmont and now works at a facility outside of San Diego County.
The press release from Sullivan’s attorney details Sullivan’s efforts to get cameras removed, efforts that were rebuffed until doctors began covering the lenses with tape. The cameras were eventually removed, but Sullivan asserts that he later found more cameras in rims of computer monitors in all three Women’s Center operating rooms, all 12 main operating rooms and six additional operating rooms at Grossmont in January 2016. One week after his latest complaint to the Chief of Staff, Sullivan says he was forced to resign is hospital privileges due to harassment and retaliation.
The hospital’s CEO, Scott Evans, has indicated that software to activate cameras spotted by Sullivan in January 2016 in new laptop computers in operating rooms was never activated.
Dr. Sullivan received his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin including senior anesthesiology clerkships at Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic and Massachusetts General Hospital. After anesthesiology residency training at the University of California San Diego, he joined the staff at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, where he served as Chief of the Anesthesia Dept. in 2008 and 2009. He has performed anesthesia over 28,000 times at the hospital.
His attorney, Lawrence A. Bohm at ohm Law Group, Inc., is noted for winning two of the largest single-plaintiff employment verdicts in U.S. history, each over $100 million, among other major cases he has won. In 2016, the Daily Journal named Bohm one of the top labor and employment lawyers in California and in 2015, The National Law Journal recognized him as one of the 50 elite trial lawyers in the nation, to name just a few of his accolades.
Regarding Sullivan’s case, Bohm says, “It is hard to believe that in this day and age, people still treat each other this way, especially in a hospital setting where patients’ lives are put at great risk because of it. One of Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s most dedicated physicians, Dr. Patrick Sullivan, refused to remain silent in the face of these shocking deviations from the standard of care. By bringing his voice to these managerial mistakes, we believe he will bring significant attention to this hospital’s broken operating system.”
ECM has contacted Sharp Grossmont Hospital for comment and has not yet received a response.
However, Evans issued a statement on February 2nd to Sharp Grossmont Hospital Staff in response to a KPBS report on Dr. Sullivan’s lawsuit. Evans said that Sullivan resigned voluntarily from Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s medical staff in January 2016.
“As noted in his complaint, Dr. Sullivan has made numerous allegations about hospital operations and against his co-workers. Sharp Grossmont Hospital did not retaliate against Dr. Sullivan because of the concerns he raised,” Evans’ statement reads.
He also calls Dr. Sullivan’s claim that the hospital used laptops to conduct video surveillance in the hospital’s operating rooms in January 2016 “untrue” (though prior instances of video surveillance during Women’s Center surgeries were confirmed previously by the hospital and those cameras were reportedly removed.)
Evans elaborated, “Sharp did install new laptops in the operating rooms in support of SurgiNet, a perioperative and anesthesia information system. Like all new laptops, they came with built-in cameras; however, software was never installed on those laptops to activate the cameras.”
The hospital’s CEO concludes, “It is disappointing that allegations like these become news stories, especially given the incredible work our physicians and team members do each and every day for our community,” adding, “We will continue to present the facts of the case to the media as allowable, given this is an active legal matter. Sharp will be responding formally to the complaint that has been filed.”
Sharp Grossmont Hospital is the largest not-for-profit, full-service acute care hospital in San Diego’s East County, part of the Grossmont Healthcare District which leases the hospital to Sharp. According to the district, Sharp Grossmont is a ”magnet-designated hospital and committed to providing the highest quality care.”
Earlier this month, Sharp was named one of America’s Best Hospitals for Heart Care by the Women’s Choice Award®, a nationwide referral source that identifies the country’s best health care institutions based on clinical criteria and surveys. The award signifies that Sharp Grossmont Hospital is in the top 9 percent of 4,789 U.S. hospitals offering heart care services.