After a week of embarrassing national media reports that Sharp Grossmont Hospital secretly videotaped some 1,800 women undergoing sensitive gynecologic surgery, a top Sharp official apologized Thursday night and said the surveillance method will not be used again.
The apology came as 50 more women joined the original 81 plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was filed March 29 in San Diego Superior Court.
“We sincerely apologize that our efforts may have caused any distress to the women who were recorded, their families, and others we serve,” Sharp HealthCare’s President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Howard said in a letter, addressed to “our San Diego community.”
“We can assure you this surveillance method is no longer in use, and we have made changes in our protocols to ensure this situation is not repeated.”
The lawsuit claims Sharp was “grossly negligent in maintaining the recordings” because they were “stored on desktop computers that could be accessed by multiple users, some without the need for a password.” Plaintiffs attorney Allison Goddard told inewsource that there are concerns the videos were not safeguarded in a way to prevent them from getting “into the wrong hands” especially between the time they were taken and the time the first lawsuit was filed in 2016.
Howard’s letter says the videos are kept in “a secured safe in our Security Department,” although copies have been provided to third parties in response to legal processes or specific patient requests.
Sharp faces a number of lawsuits in this case, the first of which was filed in 2016, after inewsource broke the story about Sharp Grossmont’s video surveillance effort in three operating rooms at the La Mesa facility’s Women’s Health Center.
Surgeries taking place there included major invasive procedures such as hysterectomies, C-sections, dilation and curettage (D&Cs) after a miscarriage, tubal ligations and gynecologic cancer surgery. Plaintiffs attorneys said Sharp officials have disclosed in legal proceedings that the surgeries that were videotaped with motion-activated cameras took place between July 17, 2012 and June 30, 2013.
Sharp officials said they discovered in 2011 that potentially dangerous sedative drugs were missing from the women’s center’s operating rooms. It launched the video surveillance effort the following year. The sole purpose, Howard said, was to determine what was happening to those sedative drugs “in order to ensure patient safety and quality of care.”
Sharp officials have previously said they didn’t believe they needed a separate consent form from the patients to conduct the video surveillance operation, and that consent forms the women signed on admission to the hospital sufficed. Attorneys for the plaintiffs disagree.
In his statement yesterday, Howard said that “although the cameras were intended to record only individuals in front of the anesthesia carts, others, including patients and medical personnel in the operating rooms, were at times visible to the cameras and recorded without sound.”
He added, “through the investigation, we were able to identify the individual who we believed was improperly removing the drugs.”
Howard said in the letter that “the surveillance methods in the 2012-13 investigation were used for that particular case only and have not been used again.”
Howard said the health system’s “primary concern has been, and will continue to be, ensuring patient safety and quality of care.”
We’ll let you know when big things happen.