By Rick Sallinger
DENVER (CBS4) – A former Swedish Medical Center surgical technician on Tuesday pleaded guilty to federal charges that he stole the powerful painkiller fentanyl from operating rooms.
Thousands of former patients have undergone testing to determine if they contracted a disease related to Rocky Allen’s actions. So far the state says no one has, but CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger found some are skeptical.
It is not pleasant to reveal, but Scott Patzer of Denver has hepatitis C. He has undergone several surgeries at Swedish Medical Center. He and thousands of others received a notice of a drug diversion with the possibility of transmission of a disease. The warning was linked to Allen, who has since been fired.
“You’ve got Rocky Allen, who is a known drug addict who has been stealing patients’ fentanyl and been replacing them with other patients’ used or contaminated syringes,” said Hollynd Hoskins, Patzer’s attorney.
Patzer underwent tests which reported that he was positive for hepatitis C. Allen, it turns out, carried the HIV virus, but not hepatitis B or C.
“He was determined to be HIV positive. You have hepatitis C. Isn’t that a leap of faith?” Sallinger asked.
“I suppose that’s a leap of faith,” Patzer replied.
But he pointed out that at other hospitals where Allen worked he was found to have replaced stolen fentanyl with needles previously used by patients.
“It’s very clear to me that Rocky Allen was taking narcotics meant for patients in the OR, switching them with used syringes that were contaminated by other patients,” said Hoskins.
But the state health department investigation produced no evidence of disease transmission either from Allen to patients or from patient-to-patient as Patzer fears. The head of state health Dr. Larry Wolk says the proof isn’t there.
“Based on our investigation we didn’t find any evidence that even that could have occurred,” Wolk said.
But attorneys for patients CBS4 spoke with point to state inspection reports of Swedish just after Allen’s firing. Inadequate record keeping for drugs was found, including fentanyl was cited.
“Any report that concludes that Rocky Allen’s actions at Swedish Medical Center did not infect patients at Swedish is inadequate, unreliable and ridiculous,” Hoskins said.
Swedish points out the problems cited by the state were found corrected two months later with no deficiencies.
Patzer says he was given blood tests before every surgery and blames his disease on Allen. The blood tests did not test for hepatitis C, however.
RELATED STORIES: Rocky Allen Story Archive
Where Allen obtained syringes and needles to replace the ones he stole is not clear. In the past Allen would take unused fentanyl from syringes discarded in what’s called a “sharps” container. Swedish Medical Center issued a statement saying, “Both the investigation conducted by CDPHE (state health) as well as our internal investigation of the incident indicated sharps disposal was compliant, and that all locked containers provided appropriate security.”
But Patzer is convinced, one way or another, his hepatitis C came as a result of Allen’s actions.
“There’s no other way I could have possibly gotten this,” he said.
Patzer has not yet filed a lawsuit.
Swedish also issued another statement saying, “The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has determined that as to those patients who chose to be tested there’s no evidence of transmission of any infection as a result of the criminal actions of Rocky Allen. This conclusion by CDPHE also included that there is no evidence that patient to patient transmission could have occurred. We encourage every patient who learned about having hepatitis through this testing to follow up with his or her doctor about treatment options.”
In response to the number of incomplete or no testing of nearly 1,000 people, Swedish said, “We have made multiple attempts to reach every patient. Our efforts have met and even exceeded expectations from regulatory agencies. Our actions have been out of an abundance of caution for our public and we do hope everyone will get tested.”
A spokesperson for the hospital said many who were tested did not complete them. The actual number of those not tested at all is probably around 500.