Lawmakers try to toughen laws for surgical techs

Posted at 5:49 PM, Mar 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-16 21:41:42-04

Two state lawmakers are sponsoring legislation they say will increase patient safety and hopefully, prevent another massive health scare like the one at Swedish Medical Center that put thousands at risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Former Swedish Surgical Tech, Rocky Allen, is accused of stealing a syringe of the powerful painkiller Fentanyl from an operating room and replacing it with another one.

"You're always going to have somebody who's going to figure out how to game a system, but we still need to try to continue to find out where are holes are," said Rep. Susan Lontine D-Denver.

"I think it's a great step forward," said Rep. Joann Ginal D-Fort Collins.

The new amended bill makes fingerprint checks and FBI background checks mandatory for all new surgical techs.

The background checks would be conducted by the state and would be required in order to register with the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) and seek employment.

Hospitals would also be required to report any positive drugs tests from new employees to the state.

"We need to make sure that when you are at your most vulnerable, unable to have any control over the situation that you should be protected," said Rep. Lontine,

HB-16-1160 passed committee Tuesday with a 10-3 vote.

Currently, surgical technologists and surgical assistants are only required to register with DORA and self-report bad behavior.

The law was passed in 2010 after a surgical tech Kristen Parker swapped out a Fentanyl syringe at Rose Medical Center and infected numerous patients with hepatitis C.  

However, Denver7 found Allen was able to game the current system by lying about his previous employment and long history of drug abuse at three other hospitals in California and Arizona.

Following Allen's case, lawmakers said they saw the need to strengthen the current regulations that were up for a sunset review.

"Having Mr. Allen's case come up when it did highlighted the need and allowed us to add those extra protections," said Rep. Lontine.

Rep. Lontine said she hopes the new stricter regulations will help prevent someone like Allen from slipping through the cracks.

"In the Rocky Allen situation he actually was reported to the DEA in California, but nobody here knew anything about that," she said.

"I believe that this will help, requiring background checks could have prevented Rocky Allen," said Holly Falcon, Vice President of the Association of Surgical Technologists.

A surgical tech herself, Falcon said she's seen firsthand the need for greater regulation and called the bill a step in the right direction.

"I have been hired in the position as a surgical technologists without a drug screen or a background check," she said.

Those who opposed the bill brought up concerns about the fact that DORA has recommended against keeping the registry for surgical techs - calling it duplicative to information hospitals are already collecting.

HB-16-1160 will now go to the full house for a vote.