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West Coast Surgical Technician Puts Patients at Risk

Steve Wagner

Rocky Allen, a 28-year-old surgical technician and Navy veteran, stands accused by federal prosecutors of swapping out needles while employed by Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado. Allen allegedly swapped out fresh needles filled with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic, with used needles filled with saline. It is alleged he then used the Fentanyl to feed his own personal addiction. Swedish Medical Center is now offering free blood tests to 2,900 patients who had surgery between August 17, 2015 and January 22, 2016, as Allen does have a blood-born pathogen. There has been no statement on which pathogen Allen carries, but court testimony shows a concern for possible patient exposure to HIV and/or Hepatitis. Allen was fired in January, but it was far too late for the patients who are now concerned about their long-term health, something that was clearly avoidable.

A Long History

Allen claims his military service in Afghanistan and the horrors he experienced there led him to begin using Fentanyl while still deployed. He was court-martialed in 2011 for theft of fentanyl, and since his return to civilian life, he had been fired by four different hospitals for fentanyl-related offenses prior to being hired by Swedish. In total, seven hospitals in Washington, Arizona, and California are now providing blood tests to patients who were potentially exposed to dangerous pathogens, as it appears Allen intentionally moved from state to state and hospital to hospital in order to fill his need for the drug and avoid being caught. He succeeded, at least for a while, putting thousands of unwitting patients at risk.

Dangerous Hires, Negligent Hires?

Certainly, the patients could bring suit against Allen, his supervising doctors, and the hospital itself. In fact, three patients have filed a lawsuit and are seeking class-action status for all patients from the impacted time period. The named defendants are Swedish Medical Center, as well as its parent companies Hospital Corporation of American and HealthONE of Denver, Inc. The allegations are that the hospital was negligent in hiring Allen given his history and failed to supervise him appropriately. They are also seeking damages for emotional distress.

This is not the first case of Fentanyl theft and subsequent negligent acts that placed patients lives at risk. It isn’t even the first case in Colorado, as Rose Medical, another HealthONE hospital, had a similar case in 2010. Kristin Parker, a surgical technician, was found to have infected at least 18 patients with Hepatitis C. While the state of Colorado is now hurrying to enact a bill requiring criminal background checks for surgical technicians, others are asking how hospitals can do a better job of monitoring medical staff and the drugs to which they have access.

Most hospitals have relatively complex medicine safes, with the newest even utilizing biometric unlocking mechanisms; however, those systems are only as useful as the regular audits used to monitor them. Just this week, a registered nurse in Colorado has had her license suspended after an audit showed she had been taking out nearly 10 times as much injectable hydromorphone and 6-9 times as much injectable Fentanyl as other staff at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.

When negligence occurs in a medical setting, patients may have recourse against multiple parties, including the hospital itself. If you believe a medical professional’s wrongdoing has caused injury, death, or put you or a loved one’s health at risk, Wagner Reese’s medical malpractice attorneys can help you put your life back on track. Call us now for a free consultation: (888) 204-8440.


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