Hospitals in four states are warning thousands of patients that they may have been exposed to hepatitis and HIV by a former hospital worker who allegedly tampered with patients’ syringes to steal narcotic pain medication.
The alert comes after Rocky Allen, 28, a former surgical technician, was indicted last month in Colorado on charges of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit during his employment at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, CO. Allen is accused of stealing syringes containing the powerful painkiller fentanyl while working in the operating room, and then swapping them with syringes filled with something else.
At the time of his arrest, Allen tested positive for both fentanyl and marijuana. Court documents confirm that he does carry a bloodborne pathogen, but no further details about the infection were specified.
Since the incident at Swedish Medical Center first came to light in February, health officials at five other hospitals where Allen worked–including three in Washington state, as well as one in California and one in Arizona–have notified more than 5,000 patients that they may be at risk and should get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C.
These notifications have sparked widespread concerns about patient safety and are now at the center of a class action lawsuit against Swedish Center Medical Center, which is accused of acting negligently in hiring the surgical technician.
According to the Denver Post, Allen had been fired from at least four previous jobs for stealing narcotics before he was hired to work at Denver’s Swedish Medical Center in August 2015. He had also lied on several job applications and was court-martialed in 2011 for stealing fentanyl while deployed with an Army unit in Afghanistan, The Post reported. Because of his history, he never should have been hired at Swedish, the lawsuit argues.
“By the time Allen appeared on the doorstep of SMC in August 2015 looking for a job as a surgical technician, all the warning signs of what would later occur at SMC were present,” the lawsuit reads. “Allen already had been terminated by numerous other hospitals for the exact conduct that has now exposed thousands of SMC patients at an increased risk of bloodborne pathogens.”
Three plaintiffs are named in the suit, but it extends to all individuals who had surgery at Swedish Medical Center between Aug. 17 and Jan. 22, The Post reported. While health officials have not confirmed any infections, a Colorado attorney says two of his clients–both of whom underwent surgery at Swedish Medical Center–have tested positive for Hepatitis B.
The lawsuit also points out that Swedish Medical Center’s parent company, HealthONE hospital, has already been implicated in a drug-theft-related scandal at another Colorado medical facility. In that case, a surgical technician at Rose Medical Center infected at least 18 patients with hepatitis C after she swapped syringes containing pain medication with previously-used, non-sterile syringes filled with saline. The employee, Kristen Diane Parker, pleaded guilty to a number of federal charges and in 2010 was sentenced to 30 years in prison.