By Walter F. Roche Jr.
In what one participant described as a "circus," physicians and other employees of a Bedford County hospital crowded into an operating room late last year to observe and take pictures and videos of an unidentified patient being treated for a genital injury.
The group, which included several employees not involved in the treatment of the patient, took pictures and videos on their personal cell phones of the patient who had not given consent, all in violation of official hospital policy.
The Dec. 23, 2016 incident was investigated by the Pennsylvania Health Department and resulted in a 41-page report which concluded that the UPMC Bedford Memorial Hospital "failed to protect the personal privacy, dignity and respect of the patient."
The 59-bed hospital in Everett, PA is part of the UPMC system. UPMC officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The hospital filed a plan of correction in which officials promised to initiate policy changes to prevent a recurrence. They also reported that physicians and employees involved were suspended for periods of up to 28 days.
The incident came to light when a hospital employee "came forward to complain about photographs that were circulating around the hospital of a patient under anesthesia while in the operating room."
The inspection report, which was recently made public, does not provide complete details on the patient's genital injury, but does state that the surgery involved the removal of a foreign body.
One hospital employee told state investigators, "I was curious. I couldn't imagine how the patient did it," adding, "There was quite a crowd"in the operating room.
"We never had a circus like this before," an employee told investigators.
The report was the result of an on site investigation from May 23 of this year to June 9.
According to the report, in addition to violating the patient's privacy rights, the incident violated a variety of hospital rules, including a requirement that only approved hospital equipment could be used to take photos of patients.
The state investigators also gathered evidence that the Dec. 23, 2016 incident was not the first time patients had been photographed without consent.
"Generally we don't tell that to a patient," one employee told investigators. "It was a medical curiosity," the employee continued. "We are a small hospital. It is commonplace for everyone to know what cases are coming in."
Another employee told state investigators, "I do take pictures of genito-urinary anomalies for educational purposes."
The employee said he did warn colleagues stating, "Stop this is a HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violation," adding that he told the curious employees they could return to the operating room once the patient was anesthetized.
According to the report, a surgeon said before the surgery finally began, "That's enough. We've got to get going."
Another employee stated that at one point, some onlookers were asked to leave "because they did not have enough eye protection for everyone due to the sparks flying from the tools that were being used."
The 2016 incident came more than two years after the disclosure that a physician took a selfie with comedian Joan Rivers, during the surgery that ended her life.