ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Public Health is investigating possible drug diversion by a former employee at Swedish Medical Center and some patients are being asked to be tested for possible exposure to diseases.
The former employee, a surgical technician, could have put some surgical patients at risk for infection of HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Police are calling former technician Rocky Allen a person of interest. A search of state medical licensing records shows Allen has been suspended. He hasn’t been arrested and hasn’t been charged.
According to the medical licensing records, Allen was suspended in late January for removing a fentanyl syringe and replacing it with another during a surgery. That powerful painkiller was later found in his system along with marijuana, prompting a larger investigation.
Mark Salley with the health department told CBS4 that they are not aware of any patient infections as a result of the drug diversion.
The issue was reported to health department officials via the online reporting system on Jan. 23.
Salley said Swedish Medical Center is notifying approximately 2,900 patients who may have been put at risk. Patients will be asked to have their blood tested for all three of the possible infections. Only patients who had surgery at Swedish Medical Center between Aug. 17, 2015 and Jan. 22 in an operating room have been asked to be tested.
Those who had surgery between those dates and want to confirm whether they are included in the testing group can call (303) 728-7140.
The case is reminiscent of the case of Kristen Parker who was a surgical technician at Rose Medical Center who infected at least 18 hospital patients with hepatitis C in 2008 and 2009. She was convicted of stealing the liquid painkiller fentanyl, leaving behind her dirty syringes that were then used on patients.
Attorney Hollynd Hoskins represented 15 of the patients who got hepatitis C who wanted stricter practices in place to keep a similar thing from happening.
“Disappointed and saddened because the patients that I represented really worked hard to put in safeguards to prevent this from happening, and hearing that this may endanger a whole other set of patients is very disheartening,” Hoskins said.
Both Rose Medical Center and Swedish are HealthONE hospitals.
Both the state health department and Englewood police are investigating.
Statement From Swedish Medical Center
Swedish Medical Center recently identified a potential drug diversion (the stealing of narcotic pain medication intended for patients) by a former employee, which prompted an immediate and thorough investigation involving several regulatory agencies. We also notified law enforcement.
We are working closely with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on an investigation of the actions of that former employee who may have put some of our surgery patients at risk for exposure to HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C, viruses that can potentially cause long-term health concerns. At this point we have no evidence of any patient exposure; however, we are taking a position of extreme caution by offering free testing to all patients who had surgery at Swedish Medical Center in locations where this individual worked at any time during this individual’s employment, including those days the employee was not on the schedule or in the facility.
Approximately 2,900 patients who had surgery at Swedish Medical Center between August 17, 2015 and January 22, 2016 are receiving calls and letters to notify them of the potential for exposure and to request that they take a free, confidential blood test to screen for these viruses. We are taking these extensive measures to ensure the safety of our patients, our staff, and our community.
We are receiving an abundance of calls from people who are not in the patient population we are trying to reach, and this is tying up the phone lines. We are attempting to reach patients who had surgery at Swedish Medical Center between August 17, 2015 and January 22, 2016 to take a free, confidential blood test to screen for blood borne viruses. Our first priority is to reach these affected patients. If you were not a surgical patient at Swedish between these dates you are not at risk at this time and we would request that you not call the designated patient care line.
“We appreciate the cooperation we have received as we work through our investigative process,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We join Swedish Medical Center in prioritizing patient safety as we work collaboratively through this situation.”
“We deeply regret that one of our former employees may have put patients at risk, and are sorry for any uncertainty or anxiety this may cause,” said Richard A. Hammett, President and CEO, Swedish Medical Center. “Please know our first concern is the health, care, safety and privacy of our patients and we are working diligently to look after the wellbeing of the patients who may have been affected by the wrongful actions of this individual.”