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Dozens Of Women Sue Sharp Grossmont Over Video Surveillance

Surveillance videos were taken in operating rooms at Sharp Grossmont Hospital's Women's Health Center. May 4, 2016.
Megan Wood
Surveillance videos were taken in operating rooms at Sharp Grossmont Hospital's Women's Health Center. May 4, 2016.
Dozens Of Women Sue Sharp Grossmont Over Video Surveillance
GUEST: Cheryl Clark, reporter, inewsource Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

Speaker 1: 00:00 KPBS media partner I knew stores is reporting that more than 80 women are suing sharp Grossmont hospital and sharp healthcare for videotaping them without their consent. All while they were undergoing sensitive obstetric surgeries including c-sections, the lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Court and it claims as many as 1800 women were recorded between July 17th, 2012 and June 30th, 2013 here's Alison Goddard and attorney who represents some of the women Speaker 2: 00:30 every surgery that took place nearly a year. So the surgeries included for someone and the best day of their life, the birth of the child section, but for someone in the worst day of their life, um, resolving a miscarriage with the DNC procedure, Speaker 1: 00:49 the women are seeking damages for invasion of privacy, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and unlawful recording of confidential information. Hospital officials have refused to comment on this story. I knew source reporters, Cheryl Clark broke it back in 2016 and joins us now. Sure, a welcome. Thank you Jane. A key question now is why would Scharf make videos of nearly 2000 women in the most private and vulnerable times in their lives? Well, yes. This goes back to a problem that sharp was having. Um, they were finding that certain sedative drugs like propafol where's seemed to be missing from the surgical carts in three operating rooms at sharp Grossmont hospitals, women's center. And they were trying to find out where these drugs were going with someone taking them. And can you remind us how these videos came to light? Well, they decided to launch this, what I call this a sting, uh, to try to catch somebody in the act. Speaker 1: 01:50 So even though we know there was no disciplinary action against hospital personnel, were there any actual legal ramifications? There were, um, the medical board of California received a complaint about one of the anesthesiologists and after an investigation did file an accusation against that doctor who had since left, uh, sharp Grossmont hospital. However, after a lengthy investigation, they dropped those charges against that anesthesiologist. He's now practicing in another part of the state and attorney Alison Goddard, who's representing some of the women in this case, says sharp has only produced a few of these videos. Does anyone know what happened to the rest? Well, that's one of the key issues in the litigation, uh, because some 1800 women were said by sharp officials in a discovery documents at discovery testimony to have been videotaped over this nearly year long period. And so there was a, an attempt to get this group of women certified as a class. Speaker 1: 02:51 The judge rejected that. But, um, some 1800 women did receive a third party notice that this lawsuit was underway. Only 300 of them have responded. So, uh, we don't really know what, where are these other videos are? Um, the attorneys do not know the names of these other women and although there was no disciplinary action taken against hospital personnel, did any of the videos actually record anyone stealing drugs from surgical carts? Well, according to my reporting from almost three years ago, some of the anesthesiologists who worked in those women's centers, uh, said that because propofol and other drugs, sedative drugs were in such short supply, they used to take those vials of drugs out of the surgical carts all the time. Because if you're a woman in labor or in distress, uh, you're coming in, you need pain medication really fast and nobody has time to go to one of the dispensing machines. Speaker 1: 03:50 So they kept these more or less open access for the surgeons who were there. And so they said, well, we were all doing that because one video in particular showed one of the anesthesiologists, uh, taking some vials of drugs and putting them in his pocket. But was he using them for his own personal benefit where his own use a w or was he storing them to use on another patient that that's unclear? Have all of the women who were caught on video been notified as to what happened? Well, the 1800 women did receive a notice, but according to Alison Goddard, the attorney that I interviewed, she's not sure that they all understood what the notice was that they got. It could've been like a postcard. It could have been a letter. They might've thought it was a scam, you know, uh, an offer to get 10 cents on a phone company, a settlement of some kind. Speaker 1: 04:50 So, uh, she is trying to reach out to other potential plaintiffs given the number of victims of why isn't this a class action lawsuit? Well, I'm not sure I understand the answer to that. The judge apparently ruled that the, um, parties at the time did not have standing. So, um, now that they have 81 plaintiffs, at least 81 women who have said that they're willing to sign their names to that, I don't know if that could change. I think the attorneys are holding out hope that it will become a class and asked for the women who have signed on as plaintiffs. Have they said an amount, uh, and financial compensation that they're seeking? No, very short answer to that. No. The short of it. All right. Well, I know this is something that you are continuing to follow. I appreciate you joining us. I've been speaking with, I knew source reporters. Cheryl Clark, Cheryl, thanks. Thank you, Chad.

More than 80 women are suing Sharp Grossmont Hospital and Sharp Healthcare for videotaping them without their consent as they underwent painful and emotional obstetric surgeries, including C-sections.

According to the 15-page lawsuit, the operating room cameras in the La Mesa facility captured videos of about 1,800 women between July 17, 2012 and June 30, 2013. Plaintiffs’ attorneys said Sharp officials disclosed those numbers and dates during legal proceedings before the lawsuit was filed.

“It was essentially every surgery that took place in three different operating rooms in the (Grossmont) Women’s Health Center for nearly a year,” said one of the attorneys, Allison Goddard. They included having ovaries removed because of reproductive issues, undergoing a hysterectomy because of health concerns like cancer, tubal ligations and surgical treatment after a miscarriage, she said.

Sharp Grossmont’s video surveillance was first reported by inewsource in a series that began May 5, 2016.

Sharp officials declined to comment for this story. But previously and in court documents, they maintained the cameras were intended to find out why sedatives were disappearing from surgery carts and if someone was stealing them. No personnel disciplinary actions were ever taken, according to attorneys and court documents.

The plaintiffs claim an invasion of privacy, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and unlawful recording of confidential information. The lawsuit was filed March 29 in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of 81 women, but more names are expected to be added to the complaint, Goddard said.

Missing videos

A key question is what happened to most of the video clips, some of which seem to have disappeared with little to no documentation that any of them were destroyed, Goddard said. She added that Sharp has produced only a few of the videos attorneys have requested.

The videos were captured by cameras embedded in monitors on the drug carts facing the patients’ bedsides and were stored on the hard drives of the attached computers in each of the Women’s Health Center operating rooms, court documents say. It’s not clear whether they were connected to a server, with server access, Goddard said.

According to documents filed in 2016, Sharp acknowledged “Some of the 6,966 video clips depict female patients in their most vulnerable state, under anesthesia, exposed and undergoing medical procedures.”

Goddard said, “Our concern is that because of the reckless way that Sharp maintained the videos, there’s really no way of knowing whether or not they’ve gotten into the wrong hands. Sharp did not track who had access to the videos, They did not keep any sort of a log of who looked at the videos, even with authorization.”

“For these women,” she continued, “they always have to live with the wonder and the question in their mind, whether or not someone got ahold of those videos.”

Goddard said the plaintiffs’ attorneys asked the court to certify their lawsuit as a class action on behalf of all 1,800 women, but were denied. Judge Ronald Styn also rejected the plaintiffs’ request to require Sharp to release the names of all 1,800 patients, because Sharp argued that violated their privacy.

However Styn allowed a third party to send 1,800 women a letter notifying them that a lawsuit was being filed, giving them an opportunity to be part of the claim.

Patient dumbfounded

So far, 300 women have responded. Goddard said at least 81 agreed to attach their names to the lawsuit.

One of the 300 women is Brandee Boniedot, 36, of Lakeside, a single mom who was born in and had two of her three children at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “I’ve trusted Sharp for many, many years,” she said.

But in 2013, Boniedot underwent a partial hysterectomy and “was very shaken up” and “dumbfounded” to learn that her entire surgery was captured on a video.

“As a female, I’ve always had a paranoia of cameras, and privacy being invaded in general, but to have it happen through a hospital ...I was really taken aback,” she said. Although her name is not listed in the current complaint, Boniedot said she has agreed to join the lawsuit.

Goddard said she believes that many of the remaining 1,500 women who were captured on video may still be unaware of the lawsuit because they perhaps didn’t understand the third party notification. Some who got the letter told attorneys that at first they thought it was a scam, or a class action to get 10 cents from phone company litigation. “They didn’t know if they could trust the letter,” she said.

Sharp apologized

Two weeks after inewsource published the first story about the video surveillance in 2016, Sharp apologized for inadvertently releasing 14 of the video clips to Duane Admire, an attorney involved in this lawsuit and an earlier one. The videos showed women undergoing obstetric surgery. Sharp acknowledged the error was a breach of these patients’ medical privacy, and that Sharp notified state and federal officials of the lapse.

Admire said this week in an interview that some of the video clips he was sent were quite graphic, including one of a woman who apparently suffered a cardiac event in the Women’s Health Center operating room. “They were giving her CPR and many different types of drugs as fast as they could. It was shocking to me to view.”

Admire noted that among the mysteries that remain is why the clinician suspected of taking drugs from the surgery carts never came under any disciplinary action even though hospital officials said that some of the clips showed him taking vials of drugs and putting them in his pocket. He continued to practice for several months.

That clinician, anesthesiologist Adam Dorin, eventually left Sharp Grossmont hospital, and the Medical Board of California filed an accusation against him alleging drug theft in 2015. In September 2016, the board dropped the drug theft charges, leaving two more minor offenses. In December 2016, the board placed Dorin on probation for three years. Admire represented Dorin in his defense against that accusation.

“He was never disciplined by the hospital and all charges by the medical board relating to any missing drugs were dismissed/dropped by the medical board,” Admire said. He wonders: if the hospital thought this situation was so serious, why did it allow Dorin to continue working there and never take any disciplinary action against him while he treated patients there.

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Dozens Of Women Sue Sharp Grossmont Over Video Surveillance
More than 80 women are suing Sharp Grossmont Hospital and Sharp Healthcare for videotaping them without their consent as they underwent painful and emotional obstetric surgeries, including C-sections. You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego Stories, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.