HIV-positive surgery tech has history of stealing drugs

AP News
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Posted: Jun 02, 2016 3:41 AM

DENVER (AP) — Prosecutors in Colorado say that a former hospital surgery technician who is accused of stealing painkiller syringes and found to be HIV positive has a history of moving from hospital to hospital and lying about his past to steal drugs.

After announcing his HIV status on Wednesday, officials urged patients who may have possibly been infected by him to be tested.

The prosecutors allege that Rocky Allen was fired from at least three hospitals in as many states, but that didn't prevent him from landing a job in August at Swedish Medical Center in suburban Denver, where he is accused of taking a syringe of painkillers and replacing it with one containing another substance.

A class-action lawsuit filed in March on behalf of three patients who had surgery at Swedish claims hospital officials should have known about Allen's "suspicious employment history" and his alleged drug abuse before they hired him.

"All the warning signs of what would later occur at SMC were present," the lawsuit states.

Allen had been fired from hospitals in Arizona, California and Washington before he moved to Colorado. He also had drug problems when he served in the Navy and was court-martialed in 2011 for stealing pain medication, military records show.

According to the lawsuit, those records would have been released if Swedish requested them as part of a background check or to inquire about Allen's military service.

It wasn't immediately known what steps the hospitals took to investigate Allen's past, but prosecutors say he lied about his previous drug problems when he applied for the job at Swedish.

Hospital spokeswoman Nicole Williams said Wednesday night she could not comment about the lawsuit, but "our background checks are in line with other (health care) organizations."

Richard McCune, who is among the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, said Wednesday that he and the plaintiffs are also frustrated it took so long to find out that Allen is HIV positive — and that he first heard about it through a news story forwarded to him by a friend.

"For it to come out in a public forum, it doesn't endear a lot of confidence in (Swedish Medical Center) handling this in an objective way," he said.

Before Wednesday, authorities had not described Allen's health status, and prosecutors previously only referred to him as having an undisclosed "blood-borne pathogen." Allen had tested negative for Hepatitis B and C, a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office also said.

The fear is that Allen may have replaced the needles intended for patients with syringes he previously used, making it possible for patients to be infected. However, Allen's public defender, Timothy O'Hara, has said that while evidence showed Allen may have switched syringes, there was no reason to believe he was re-using them.

Public health officials have said the risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens is low, and there have been no reported cases of patients becoming infected because of Allen.

Authorities say someone saw Allen take a syringe filled with painkillers from an operating room at Swedish on Jan. 22. The hospital fired him, and three weeks later federal prosecutors charged him with tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit.

Swedish Medical Center officials attempted to notify about 3,000 patients who underwent surgery in the hospital's main operating room during Allen's employment.

Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer and executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Wednesday that complete test results were not obtained for about 1,000 patients. While the department said no evidence of transmission was found in those for whom testing was completed, it could not confirm that no diseases were passed on because testing was incomplete.

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Associated Press writers Dan Elliott, Donna Bryson and Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.