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Hidden Cameras in California Hospital Violate Women’s Privacy

A women’s hospital in California used hidden cameras to record around 1,800 patients without their consent according to a new lawsuit.

The cameras were located in three labor and delivery operating rooms over a period of more than 11 months, beginning in the summer of 2012. The women’s faces, genitals, and, at times, their newborn children were visible on camera.

Currently, 81 women have been named as plaintiffs, with more expected to join in the coming months. The women were all notified by a third-party administrator after a nine-month-long court battle for possession of the videos.

The cameras were installed after a slew of thefts in May 2012, when drugs were reported missing from medical carts in operating rooms. The cameras were meant to take images whenever anyone entered the room. The complaint filed by the victims alleges that, in addition to violating patients’ privacy, the hospital itself was negligent for storing the video footage on computers used by multiple people that weren’t password protected.

Drug theft is a huge problem in hospitals, which are  considered absolute privacy zones, but there are less intrusive ways to investigate missing medicine, according to experts.

Most hospitals coordinate with law enforcement to avoid the illegal recording of patients who expect a certain level of privacy when they enter a hospital. Art Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University School of Medicine believes this hospital’s procedure is completely unacceptable. “It may be a noble thing to try and figure out how drugs are being diverted but set it up with the appropriate legal authorities,” Caplan said. “It can’t be just an internal quality control activity. If you want to get people not to trust health care, this is a great way to do it,” he said.

Allison Goddard, a lawyer representing the over 80 women involved in the lawsuit, has obtained five of the videos and has requested around 100 more. She finds the recordings extremely personal. She said, “It’s the most fundamental breach of privacy. It’s horrifying to think that, especially in today’s day and age of the ubiquity of videos on the internet, if one of those videos were to get in the wrong hands, there’s no controlling it. It takes your own medical care outside your own control.”

Apparently, the hospital has deleted some of the files but has not provided any proof when or how they deleted them or if they are recoverable at all.

The women in the lawsuit say they suffered anguish, horror, humiliation, depression, and feelings of powerlessness and now seek monetary compensation for the damages from the hospital.

John Cihomsky, the hospital’s vice president of public relations and communications, released an official statement addressing the lawsuit. He said, “We sincerely regret that our efforts to ensure medication security may have caused distress to those we serve.”

Regardless of the hospital’s apology, the filming of naked or partially clothed women without their consent is never okay. The women in this lawsuit are risked a lot in coming forward especially after having been exposed at one of their most vulnerable times of life.

Featured Image by Frédéric Bisson on Flickr.

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


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