81 women sue California hospital that put cameras in delivery rooms

The parent company of Sharp Grossmont Hospital near San Diego said the cameras were installed to catch a drug thief.

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By Alex Johnson

Scores of women have gone back to court alleging that a Southern California hospital that installed hidden cameras in three labor and delivery rooms violated their privacy while they were "emotionally and physically exposed, and at their most vulnerable."

The claim was first filed as a class action in 2016 but was denied class action status. It was refiled last week by 81 women who underwent procedures from July 2012 to June 2013, when the cameras were rolling at the Women's Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, a northeastern suburb of San Diego.

As it did in 2016, Sharp HealthCare, the hospital's nonprofit parent company, acknowledged in a statement Tuesday that it installed the motion-activated cameras and computer monitors, saying they were meant to catch the thief or thieves responsible for the disappearance of a powerful anesthetic from drug carts.

"Although the cameras were intended to record only individuals in front of the anesthesia carts removing drugs, others, including patients and medical personnel in the operating rooms, were at times visible to the cameras and recorded," the medical company said.

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"We sincerely regret that our efforts to ensure medication security may have caused any distress to those we serve," it said, adding that images taken by the cameras "were used for this particular case only and have not been used again."

The new suit, which was filed Friday in San Diego County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages at a jury trial for invasion of privacy, unlawful recording of confidential information, negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty involving as many as 1,800 women.

It alleges that patients' "most sensitive genital areas" were visible at times and that the cameras were positioned where they could sometimes record the women's faces.

"I am a mom of four girls. I lead by example," Jessica Lincoln, the lead complainant, told NBC San Diego. "I'm a pretty black-and-white person as far as what is right and what is wrong, and this is wrong."

Another complainant, Melissa Escalera, said she was secretly recorded while giving birth to her daughter by emergency cesarean section.

"When I arrived in an ambulance and was wheeled into the operating room on a gurney, my concern was with my daughter, who was in distress and coming six weeks early," Escalera said.

"I was not planning on having a baby that September 4th day," she said. "It was a highly stressful and emotional time for my family and my doctor. No one ever asked me to record one of my most tender, life-changing moments.

"I would have never agreed to be recorded in that vulnerable moment," she said.

Sharp said it couldn't comment further because of the litigation.