Videos were reportedly seen by a male security guard and an attorney
East County News Service
May 30, 2016 (La Mesa) — A class action lawsuit has been filed against Sharp Healthcare alleging that videos taken during surgeries at Sharp Grossmont Surgery violated women’s privacy, including women filmed during childbirth as part of the hospital’s effort to catch a doctor suspected of stealing anesthesia drugs, Courthouse News reports.
Melissa Escalera, the named plaintiff, alleges that Sharp violated privacy of thousands of women in three operating rooms at the hospital. Escalera said she was filmed giving birth by Caesarean section to her baby six weeks prematurely, after arriving at the hospital by ambulance, Fox News reported. “I would have never agreed to be recorded in that vulnerable moment,” she stated.
The suit claims that the videos showed patients unconscious and undergoing medical procedures, ”while they were emotionally and physically exposed, often naked” with genital areas exposed.
According to the complaint, the hospital allowed a male security guard to review the videos. The hospital has admitted to also turning over 14 videos showing patients to Duane Admire, an attorney representing the doctor accused of stealing drugs.
Sharp has apologized for its error in turning over those videos to the attorney and indicated it was reaching out to those patients whose privacy was admittedly breached, as ECM previously reported.
But Sharp has maintained that it had a right to make the videos and have hospital staff review them, citing language in medical consent forms that allowed for videotaping for purposes including safety. Some medical ethics experts have disputed that, claiming a separate waiver would be required for videotaping, according to an inewssource investigation that broke the story of the videotaping.
Sharp has not commented on the lawsuit, per its policy of not commenting on any pending litigation.
Attorney Allison Goddard with Patterson Law Group is representing Escalera. In an interview with Courthouse News he stated,” If they had invited a security guard in his uniform and an attorney in a suit to stand in the room when she was undergoing surgery she obviously wouldn’t consent to that.”
The hospital has turned over some videos to the State Medical Board after reportedly finding evidence on videos that showed Dr. Adam Dorin, an anesthesiologist, taking the drug propofol off an anesthesia cart and putting it into his pocket. According to Sharp, videos provided to the state did not show patients. Dr. Dorin has insisted he was not stealing drugs – and now other anesthesiologists have come to his defense, inewssource reports. Dr. Dorin was suspended but the very next day the suspension was lifted after evidence from other anesthesiologists emerged.
Dr. Patrick G. Sullivan, former chief of Grossmont’s anesthesia department, wrote an open letter to the public blasting the hospital for severely violating the public trust with the videotaping. He defends Dr. Dorin’s actions, stating that the hospital had a year-long shortage of propofol and that at times patients were on the operating table and “there was not enough propofol to put them to sleep.” He said as a result, many anesthesiologists routinely took propofol from one part of the hospital to another to save for use during emergencies. He further accused Sharp of singling out Dr. Dorin for retribution because Dorin had been a whistleblower who spoke out publicly on safety issues.
Dr. Sullivan’s letter also said that when he and several obstetricians/gynecologists discovered the hidden video camera in March 2013, “we passionately complained to the Women’s Center Director and implored her to remove the cameras, but she refused.” Doctors then began putting tape over the camera lens to protect their patients’ privacy, after which the camera eventually was taken down.
Dr. Dorin’s attorney has asked to review all of the videos to prove his client’s innocence, but a court has denied that request.
Dr. Sullivan is calling for the resignation of the Women’s Center Director and wants all 6,966 videos reviewed by Dorin’s attorney or a female third party agreed to by both sides to see if there is evidence to clear Dr. Dorin as well as to determine the extent of privacy violations. He also calls for state and federal investigations.
The California Department of Public Health is now investigating whether the hospital violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act known as HIPAA. If so, Sharp could pay hefty penalties up to a max of a quarter of a million dollars.
The costs to Sharp could be far higher, however, if the class action privacy lawsuit on behalf of female patients prevails in court.