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An or prank goes very wrong.

It's all fun and games until someone files a civil lawsuit.

A misguided prank in the operating room involving a hospital employee undergoing surgery evolved into a national story and a cautionary tale when she filed a lawsuit against the colleagues that hatched and executed the scheme.

During a minor procedure at California's Torrance Memorial Medical Center, an anesthesiologist placed a number of stickers on 36-year-old Veronica Valdez's face while she was unconscious. The stickers were arranged to look like a black mustache and teardrops. Once they were in place, a nursing attendant in the operating room took a photo of Valdez.

The 2011 incident led to a state investigation and a civil lawsuit by the patient against the hospital and the doctor in charge. Torrance Memorial admitted "a breach of professionalism regrettably did occur" and those at fault "demonstrated poor judgment" while attending to Valdez, who was an employee of the hospital for 13 years prior to the surgery. She has since left her job because of the "ridicule and humiliation" she sustained because of the prank.

Those involved were suspended but not fired, even though deposition testimony suggested a surgery photo of Valdez was posted on Facebook. However, lawyers for Torrance Memorial said there was no evidence the photo appeared online. Furthermore, a recent Los Angeles Times article cited deposition testimony that disclosed an earlier incident in which a medical device salesman snapped photos of a naked patient without the person's knowledge. It should be noted that hospital disputes that photos were taken in that incident.

Whatever the case, this saga makes me wonder why hospitals like Torrance Memorial Medical Center don't have a better handle on potential privacy issues within facility walls. According to the LA Times article, the hospital implemented such a policy in 2009. That's fine, but where's the enforcement?

It's asking quite a bit to trust employers, employees, or colleagues to consistently make the right decision in every case. Furthermore, it's impossible to create a work environment where accidental errors and/or errors in judgment are completely out of the realm of possibility. However, someone or something should have prevented this regrettable incident from taking place. No matter whether you consider this incident to be harmless prank taken the wrong way or an invasion of privacy, it indicates that an ill-advised lapse in judgment can be interpreted as something more and eventually lead to some serious negative publicity for a hospital facility.

What's your take?


Mike Schmidt


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Title Annotation:Editor's Note
Author:Schmidt, Mike
Publication:Surgical Products
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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