2,900 patients at risk of HIV, hepatitis after surgery in Colorado hospital

© Eric Gaillard
Colorado-based Swedish Medical Center asked around 2,900 patients to undergo “free and confidential” tests for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C after revealing a former surgical technician allegedly replaced a syringe needle with an infected one.

Rocky Allen, 28, the surgical technologist who worked in operating rooms at the hospital from August 17 to January 22, could have infected patients who had surgery during that time.

By that time, Allen allegedly switched out a surgical patient's intravenous narcotic medicine to inject himself, and then may have placed the needle back into circulation.

The surgical technologist license Allen obtained in July was suspended on January 29. The suspension order quoted by the Denver Post, noted that on January 22, “in the beginning stages of a surgical procedure,” Allen “removed a labeled Fentanyl syringe” from the anesthesia work space “and replaced the Fentanyl syringe with another labeled syringe.”

Around 2,900 patients began receiving calls and e-mails from Swedish Medical Center urging them to get their blood tested for HIV as well as hepatitis B and C. The hospital officials did not specify, however, how Allen could have infected the patients, also refusing to reveal if the former technician was infected himself.

A former patient at the clinic, who requested anonymity, told 9News he received a phone call Wednesday from the hospital. He said he was frustrated because medical center’s officials would not tell him whether Allen was infected with any of the diseases, saying it “would violate his privacy rights.”

Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the state health agency, said potential reuse of syringe needles was the main concern. As hospitals usually control the inventory of needles, the risk is that a drug thief “is taking needles, not just drugs, and replacing them with used needles,” he told media.

The hospital says there is no evidence of any patient exposure, but they will be taking a position of extreme caution by offering free and confidential testing to all patients who had surgery at Swedish Medical Center during the term of Allen's employment, including days he was not on the schedule or in the facility.

“We deeply regret that one of our former employees may have put patients at risk, and are sorry for any uncertainty or anxiety this may cause,” said Richard A. Hammett, president and CEO of Swedish Medical Center.

Police say Allen is still at large, but an investigation is underway to find out if a crime was committed.