Rocky Allen has tested positive for for HIV, according to CNN, but tested negative for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The former surgical technician worked at the Swedish Medical Center located in Englewood, Colorado and was suspended after it was discovered that he had been stealing syringes of the pain medication fentanyl for his personal use from the hospital. The hospital was concerned that Allen may have put a syringe he used on himself “back into circulation.” The Swedish Medical Center first reported the potential risk of exposure created by Allen in February. The hospital sent out letters to around 3,000 patients who may have been at risk for exposure to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.
Hospitals in three other states – California, Arizona, and Washington – later followed suit and sent letters to patients after learning that Allen had worked there. Now some 5,000 patients including those in Colorado have been notified of their potential exposure risk. So far no patients have reported contracting HIV from Allen in Colorado. The Swedish Medical Center has tested about 2,500 of the 3,000 patients notified. However, the hospital stated that 500 patients at risk have yet to be tested. In addition, another 500 did not come back for follow-up tests.
Allen has been indicted in federal court on criminal charges of tampering with a consumer product as well as obtaining a controlled substance by deceit. He has plead not guilty to these charges. His trial is set for August of 2016.
Though there have been no reported instances of any disease transmission yet due to Allen, the patients of another surgical technician were not so lucky. In 2009, Kristen Diane Parker gave a number of her former patients Hepatitis C. Parker used pain medication in syringes on herself then replaced the missing fluid with saline. She put her used syringes back into circulation and those needles were then used on patients. She exposed some 5,700 people to Hepatitis C. Authorities claimed that Parker was aware she had the disease when she was stealing the medication because she had been screened for it. She was brought up on charges of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit. She received 30 years in prison for her crimes.
Other hospitals have faced similar challenges with employees stealing drugs and creating a risk of exposure for patients. Just recently in New Jersey, at Shore Medical Center, a pharmacist was found to be stealing vials full of morphine. He too was replacing the medicine with saline. That hospital notified 213 patients to get tested for Hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV. Several years ago another hospital in Colorado, Poudre Valley Hospital, had to notify 210 patients that they may have been exposed to Hepatitis C after an employee was found to be stealing the pain medication out of syringes.
What can hospitals do to prevent instances of employees stealing drugs? Often hospitals have systems in place to track medications but clearly these systems are not always effective. Back in 2009, in response to Parker’s case, the Colorado Hospital Association said it looked at several areas where reforms could be implemented including expanding employee drug tests to include tests for things like fentanyl. With regards to Allen’s case, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment found that the Swedish Medical Center needed improvement in several areas, which the hospital then corrected.
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