Former Sharp doctor says he was fired after telling administrators about secret recordings

LA MESA, Calif. -- Sharp Grossmont Hospital's former chief of anesthesia said Tuesday that he can corroborate claims, alleged in a recently filed lawsuit, that around 1,800 female patients were secretly recorded during sensitive medical procedures in the hospital's women's center.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan alleges that he was forced out of the hospital after bringing his concerns to Sharp leadership that women were being surreptitiously filmed in 2012 and 2013 while undergoing a wide range of procedures such as childbirth and hysterectomies.

A lawsuit filed against the hospital last month on behalf of around 80 women alleges that around 1,800 patients were recorded, a figure Sullivan alleges is accurate.

“This was an intentional act by Sharp to not only to put the secret cameras in the women’s center operating room, but then to try to conceal them after Dr. Sullivan discovered them and tried to bring it to the administration’s knowledge,” said Kyle Pruner, Sullivan's attorney.

“(They) continued filming for 3½ months after I brought this to their attention in March 19, 2013,"  Sullivan added.

Sharp President and CEO Chris Howard, in a statement issued on April 4, said cameras were installed in the operating rooms at the women's center in order to combat a series of thefts of the powerful anesthetic propofol, as well as operating room equipment.

Howard said that while 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."

The hospital maintains that the recordings were only made in connection with the drug/equipment thefts investigation and have not been used again, though it acknowledged that at least some the videos still exist. The video footage is "kept in a secured safe in our security department" and copies have been provided "to third parties in response to legal processes or specific patient authorizations or requests."

While the exact number of videos the hospital made is uncertain, Sullivan alleges that a "male security guard has reviewed at least 6,966 video clips between February and June 2013" and estimated that "he reviewed another 14,000 clips between July 2012 and February 2013."

About half of the recordings were deleted when operating room computers were "refreshed" in 2013, according to the lawsuit.

Howard stated that as a result of the hospital's investigation into the propofol thefts, "the individual who we believed was improperly removing the drugs" was identified and "is no longer affiliated with Sharp HealthCare."

Sullivan alleges that after he informed hospital leadership about the cameras, it took "more than 100 days" before the hospital stopped making the recordings. In the interim, Sullivan said he and other doctors covered the camera lenses with tape.

Sullivan said that he discovered cameras in the women's center again in January 2016. He said he  photographed the cameras and believes "they are still there to this day, though Sharp claims they are not operational." He also claims that there were no propofol thefts at the hospital, but rather anesthesiologists were using the women's center's inventory of propofol due to a national shortage of the drug.

Sullivan filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the hospital in 2017, claiming that he was forced to resign after bringing up the recordings, which led hospital staff to "harass, intimidate, embarrass and retaliate" against him, including falsely accusing him of inappropriately touching a nurse.

"In response to the national attention focused on the secret recordings of women during their most private moments at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, I want the world to know their claims are absolutely valid," Sullivan said.  "Sharp Healthcare says they’re no longer there or in use, but they came back and they were there when I left Grossmont Hospital on January 14, 2016. They were there not only in all three in the women’s center operating rooms, they were in the same location in all 12 operating rooms in the main OR at the Grossmont surgery center down the hill. I took pictures of them.”

A class action lawsuit regarding the recordings was filed against the hospital in 2016 on behalf of a patient who alleged she was filmed while undergoing an emergency Caesarean section in late 2012. The suit alleged that around 15,000 videos were made of women's center patients, capturing them "while they were emotionally and physically exposed."

If you believe you were a victim, contact Allison Worden at Gomez Trial Attorneys at 619-237-3490 or aworden@thegomezfirm.com.

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