It was the wires dangling from a wall clock that first caught the eye of the nurse, who was taking a breather after a stint in the labor and delivery unit of Good Samaritan Hospital.
A closer inspection revealed a tiny, pea-sized camera lens above the numeral "9."
Within minutes, nurses at the hospital just west of downtown Los Angeles hit the phones, alerting colleagues about the device in the break room and asking them to check other clocks for hidden cameras. In all, they found 16 tiny devices hidden within timepieces placed on the walls of lounges, a fitness center, a conference room and a pharmacy, among other locations.
"We feel they have violated our rights and our privacy," said Sussette Nacorda, 50, a nurse in the coronary care unit, who found a camera in a lounge.
Hospital officials said they installed the cameras over the summer as part of a security effort. They said they had intended to put up signs to notify people about the cameras but had not had an opportunity before the devices were discovered. The cameras had not yet been turned on, they said.
"Our goal is not at all to spy on" nurses, said Sammy Feuerlicht, the hospital's vice president of business. "Our goal is to make employees feel more comfortable, not less comfortable."
Feuerlicht contends that the hospital installed the cameras after employees expressed concern that some break rooms and other facilities were vulnerable to burglaries.
"There had been some thefts occurring in break rooms in the past," he said, adding that the plan was for security officers to review the footage if someone reported a theft.
Nurses said they were particularly incensed because they believed some of the cameras had partial views of locker rooms and a visitors' area commonly used by mothers to breastfeed. Break rooms are often used by nurses to change clothes, they said.
Hospital officials countered that the rooms should not be used for changing clothes and that they did not consider them private areas.
Jim Lott, a spokesman for the Hospital Assn. of Southern California, said it was standard practice for hospitals to install cameras and that these were the first complaints about privacy he had heard.
Hospitals have grown more concerned about security since a man killed two employees and a patient on a shooting spree at West Anaheim Medical Center about five years ago, Lott said.
"I don't know that it's wrong, bad or problematic [to have cameras] in a break room so long as people are aware that they are there," Lott said.
Cameras have also sparked controversy at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, where nurses discovered cameras last month.
"We don't know where all the surveillance equipment is yet," said Chris Swanson, a labor representative at the Bakersfield hospital. "We have discovered surveillance cameras near some nurses' stations."
She said she believes hospital management has made inappropriate use of the cameras by monitoring the nurses' work habits.
A spokesman for the hospital said that about five cameras have operated for three years in hallways and common areas around nursing stations at Memorial Center, a satellite campus that treats patients with psychiatric disorders and chemical dependency.
"They are security cameras," said hospital spokesman Ken Keller. "They are not cameras to monitor workers or anything along those lines."
Keller said the hospital has put up signs warning visitors and employees that cameras may be operating. He said the hospital has not installed any cameras in break areas.
"That's a line we don't want to cross," he said.