MEDICAL staff at a US hospital are under state investigation and face a civil lawsuit after an anaesthetist painted a woman’s face with stickers while she was unconscious during surgery.

The patient, Veronica Valdez, 36, claims she was subject to a breach of medical privacy and is holding Torrance Memorial Medical Centre and doctor to account.

Dr. Patrick Yang painted a black moustache and teardrops under Valdez’s left eye during a minor surgery on her finger in October, 2011.

The image was caught on camera by a nursing aide Patricia Gomez.

In her testimony, Gomez said she did not send the photo on and delated it after showing Valdez.

The hospital confirmed in a statement that this “breach of professionalism regrettably did occur” and the accused “demonstrated poor judgment”, but the Chicago tribune reports Dr. Yang and his colleagues were disciplined but not fired.

Yang was suspended for two weeks while Gomez and two other employees were also suspended for a brief time. Staff have also received extra training on privacy.

In his deposition, Yang described cutting out and colouring the stickers before placing them on Valdez’s face during the final minutes of the hourlong procedure.

“I thought she would think this is funny and she would appreciate it,” he said.

Valdez was a former staffer, having worked at the hospital 13-years before the procedure.

“I felt violated. I was in shock,” Valdez said. She has not spoken further on the matter but her lawyer has claimed she had to leave her job because she was “ridiculed and humiliated while under anaesthesia.”

The hospital has fired back, claiming Valdez’s lawsuit is “factually inaccurate, grossly exaggerated or fabricated.”

This isn’t the first controversial breach for the hospital, after allegations a medical-device salesman took photos of a naked patient without their consent or knowledge. The hospital denies the claims.

“The idea that people are using their cellphone or even have one in the operating room is crazy,” said Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group in Austin, Texas. “It’s a massive security risk and incredibly insensitive to patients.”

A spokesman for the California Department of Public Health said the agency “cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.”