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Surgical tech in needle-swap scandal released

Posted at 5:15 AM, Feb 19, 2016

There are questions about whether a former surgical tech, accused of switching syringes at Swedish Medical Center and possibly putting thousands of Coloradans at risk, stole Fentanyl-filled syringes on other occasions at the same hospital.

Special Agent Christy Berg, of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation, testified Friday that the employee who spotted Rocky Allen switching syringes on January 22, believes he may have done the same thing January 19.

Berg said that witness told her that she spotted Allen take something from a Pyxis Station, but he had his back turned towards her, so she couldn’t see what it was.

The witness told investigators that on Jan. 22, she saw Allen walk into Operating Room 5, talk to people, go to the Pyxis station, pick up a syringe, replace it with another and quickly leave the room.

Berg said that on that day, Allen was supposed to be in the burn room, Operating Room 12.

“The people in O.R. 5 thought it was strange that he was there,” she said.

Allen was late getting to O.R. 12 and when he was questioned about it, he told the other employees he had a stomach issue and had been in the restroom.

The witness told investigators that after observing the switch, she left the room to collect herself, went back in and told the anesthesiologist, “Don’t use that syringe.”

Berg said the anesthesiologist was taken aback.

The witness then said, “I’m going to get a manager.”

Berg said the syringe left behind had a different label that the one on the syringe prepared by the anesthesiologist.

It was blue, like the one on the original syringe, but the one the anesthesiologist prepared contained 50 mcg/mll of fentanyl, while the one left behind had a label stating 10 mcg/mll of fentanyl.

Berg testified that the syringe left behind did not contain fentanyl at all. She said it was still being tested to determine what was in it and whether it was a “dirty” or used syringe.

When Mr. Allen was asked why he had been in O.R. 5, he replied, “I was going to say ‘hi’ to everyone, like I always do.”

The defendant worked at four previous hospitals:

  • HonorHealth – John C. Lincoln Medical Center / Phoenix – Fired after testing positive for a controlled substance / fentanyl
  • Banner Health – Thunderbird Medical Center / Glendale AZ – Fired after he was seen going through a “sharps” container in the operating room
  • Scripps Health – San Diego – Fired after he was seen switching syringes.  Admitting replacing a fentanyl syringe with one filled with saline
  • Northwest Hospital – Seattle – Investigation underway about conduct at that hospital
  • U.S. Navy – Possible incident in the Navy still under investigation

Berg testified that after Allen was fired from each hospital, he applied at another, but never mentioned his previous hospital employment.

The prosecutor, Jaime Pena, described Allen as a drug addict and a drug seeker.

“Some drug seekers have diseases that can be passed on,” Pena said.

Allen’s medical records were introduced as evidence “under seal.”  The only mention made was of a blood born pathogen.

Pena argued for continued detention.

“Digging through a sharp’s container is incredible,” he said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

Pena told the judge, “He (Allen) had the gall to walk in on the middle of a (pre-) operation, when others were busy.”

But defense attorney Timothy O’Hara said Mr. Allen is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

“He was assigned to Afghanistan,” O’Hara said.  “He didn’t see combat, but he saw the effects.”

O’Hara said Allen worked as a surgical tech 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“People were grabbing his arms telling him to not let them die,” O’Hara told the judge.

Judge Kristen L. Mix said it was alarming that Allen had not received any drug treatment.

“It’s available to him as a U.S. Veteran,” she said.

“What jumps out,” Mix said, “is that he is clearly an individual who suffers from a considerable drug problem.”

Mix released Allen on $25,000 bond with the follow stipulations:

  • Report for drug screening
  • Execute bond
  • Maintain employment – but not at a medical, veterinary or pharmaceutical company
  • Surrender passport
  • Remain in Colorado unless court approves out of state travel
  • No firearms or weapons
  • Move to a halfway house
  • No drugs/marijuana
  • Drug therapy
  • Do not work as an informant unless court approves
  • Report all infractions including traffic stops

 

Patients outraged

Patrick Evans had two surgeries while Allen worked at Swedish. He tested negative for hepatitis and HIV, but says the stress it caused his family is something he'll never forget.

"Even now, I don't sleep very well because it still affects me -- just being upset, frustrated with this whole situation," said Evans.

Evans is upset Allen was allowed out on bond - even if there are requirements of his release.

"That really angered me, that made me upset because it seems like he has more rights than I do," he said. "I will probably never trust another hospital again."

Allen indicted in Colorado

Allen surrendered to federal agents in Denver Tuesday morning, according to the Department of Justice.

Allen was indicted by a Denver federal grand jury on charges of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit, according to the Department of Justice.

The grand jury found Allen acted "with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of bodily injury."

Due to the alleged drug theft, Swedish Medical Center has asked approximately 3,000 patients who had surgery between Aug.17, 2015 and Jan. 22, 2016 in the main operating rooms to be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Patients treated in the orthopedic operating room on Oct. 28, 2015 are also asked to take the same tests. All tests are being conducted free of charge.

A lawyer tells Denver7 that two patients treated at Swedish Medical Center have tested positive for Hepatitis B.

MORE | 2 Swedish Medical Center patients who had surgery last fall test positive for Hepatitis B

Allen was hired by the hospital in Colorado less than two years after he was fired from an Arizona hospital for testing positive for a controlled substance.

Arizona is one of 39 states that does not regulate surgical technologists or keep any disciplinary records.

Colorado and ten other states do regulate surgical technologists, but Colorado and Washington are the only states that require them to register with Colorado.

MORE | Swedish surgical tech hired in Colorado after being fired in another state for drugs

Allen faces one count of tampering with a consumer product. If convicted on that count, he faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. He also faces one count of obtaining a controlled substance by deceit and subterfuge. If convicted on that count, he faces up to 4 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

MORE | Surgical techs are pushing for stronger regulations after massive medical scare at Swedish

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