In a shockingly broad outreach, Swedish Medical Center is asking about 2,900 patients to get tested for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C after discovering that a former employee may have stolen narcotic pain medicines. A surgical technologist, 28-year-old Rocky Allen, worked in operating rooms at the hospital from Aug. 17 to Jan. 22. Hospital officials are concerned that he may have put at risk patients who had surgery during that time.  Read more about the possible claims against Swedish at Hospital Malpractice.

The hospital announced it is investigating possible exposures with the state Department of Public Health and Environment and is reaching out to patients. The Englewood Police Department said police are also investigating and may bring charges against Allen for allegedly stealing a Fentanyl syringe from an operating room on Jan. 22. But Allen has not been arrested.

The Colorado Division of Professions and Occupations shows that Rocky Elbert Allen obtained a surgical technologist license in July. It was summarily suspended Jan. 29. The suspension order notes that on Jan. 22, “in the beginning stages of a surgical procedure,” Allen “removed a labeled Fentanyl syringe” from the anesthesia work space “and replaced the Fentanyl syringe with another labeled syringe.”

Allen “submitted to a urinalysis which was positive for Fentanyl and marijuana,” the according to the order. Fentanyl is a potent narcotic pain medicine used by anesthesiologists.

Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the state health agency, told reporters that potential reuse of needles is the main concern. Hospitals track the inventory of needles, and since no needles went missing, it suggests that a drug thief “is taking needles, not just drugs, and replacing them with used needles,” he said.
So far there are no known cases of infection among Swedish surgical patients, but testing will occur over the next several weeks. Due to privacy rights, Department of Public Health and Environment spokesman Mark Salley could not comment about testing of Allen for HIV or hepatitis viruses. But patients are being asked to have their blood tested for all three infections.

If this scenario seems familiar, it is because this is the second mass exposure resulting from a hospital tech stealing OR drugs. In 2009, Denver surgical tech Kristen Diane Parker infected at least 18 hospital patients with hepatitis C by stealing liquid painkillers and leaving behind her dirty syringes. Parker, who worked at Rose Medical Center and Audubon Surgery Center of Colorado Springs, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For more about the Hep C exposure see Patients Exposed to Hep C at Second Colorado Hospital.