Surgical tech in needle-swap scandal at Swedish Medical Center has HIV, officials confirm

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - A surgical technologist accused of swapping needles to steal powerful drugs from Swedish Medical Center has tested positive for HIV, federal officials confirmed Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Justice released the following statement:

"Blood testing released by consent of Rocky Allen has confirmed that federal defendant and former Swedish Medical Center of Colorado (Swedish) employee Rocky Allen carries HIV (subtype B) and that he is negative for Hepatitis B and C. Rocky Allen was a Surgery Technician at Swedish between August 2015 and January 2016. During his employment, he allegedly diverted fentanyl from the facility.

"To address public health concerns, Swedish previously attempted to notify the approximately 3,000 patients potentially affected by Rocky Allen’s conduct, and approximately 2,500 of those patients took advantage of the free medical testing offered by Swedish and were tested for all three blood-borne pathogens; however, approximately 500 of those initially tested did not participate in recommended follow-up testing. To date there have been no reported cases of transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.

"The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado and Swedish strongly encourage those potentially affected patients who have not already done so to avail themselves of the free medical testing offered by Swedish. Specifically, we ask that those patients who have not been tested contact Swedish at 303-788-4646 in order to schedule free testing."
 

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

The Medical Director of Radiology at Swedish Medical Center, Dr. Matthew Fleishman, says a staff member witnessed the apparent theft of a potent narcotic drug by Allen.

According to the indictment, on Jan. 22, 2016, Allen, "with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of bodily injury, and under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to such risk, tampered and attempted to tamper with a consumer product, namely a syringe containing Fentanyl Citrate, by removing the syringe containing Fentanyl Citrate and replacing it with a similar syringe containing another substance." 

According to the Order of Summary Suspension, Allen later submitted to a urinalysis which was positive for fentanyl and marijuana.

As a result, Swedish Medical Center asked approximately 3,000 patients who had surgery between Aug.17, 2015 and Jan. 22, 2016 in the main operating rooms and in the orthopedic operating room on Oct. 28, 2015 to be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C free of charge.

"I'm very stressed. It's not just the fact I may get HIV, or that I have or I don't have it. It's just one thing on top of another with this whole situation,” said Patrick Evans. Evans had surgery at Swedish Medical Center during the time Allen was working.

Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical officer and executive director of the CDPHE said the following regarding the case: 

The Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has completed its investigation of alleged drug diversion by a surgical technician at Swedish Medical Center between August 2015 and January 2016.

To address public health concerns, Swedish officials attempted to notify approximately 3,000 patients potentially affected by the surgical technician’s conduct, which potentially put patients at risk of exposure to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Many of those patients took advantage of the free blood testing offered by Swedish; however, complete test results were not obtained for approximately 1,000 patients. Swedish continues to provide access to free blood testing for patients who were notified of their risk of potential exposure, and the department encourages patients who have not completed testing to do so.

Of available blood test results, CDPHE’s investigation has produced no evidence of disease transmission, either from the surgical technician to a patient or from patient to patient. The absence of such evidence is not proof that no disease transmission occurred, because not all notified patients chose to be tested.

In early April, the Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division finalized the report of its investigation. Deficient practice was cited regarding Swedish pharmacy services, including drug auditing procedures as well as infection control and surgical services. Ensuring accountability and tracking controlled drugs were addressed in the hospital’s plan of correction.

Individuals may choose to release specific information pertaining to their own health status. However, because the department is charged with conducting confidential disease control investigations, any information, including reports of the investigation, released publicly by the department will not identify any named individual’s health status.

Allen faces one count of tampering with a consumer product. If convicted on that count, he faces not more than 10 years in federal prison, and up to 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 not more than 4 years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine.

Allen is currently out on bond and staying at a halfway house.

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