The Medical Director of Radiology at Swedish Medical Center says a staff member witnessed the apparent theft of a potent narcotic drug by a surgical technician on January 22.
“The staff member followed Swedish protocol,” said Dr. Matthew Fleishman, “which includes, first and foremost, protecting the patient to prevent harm, removal of the suspected employee immediately from any patient care area and then notifying a supervisor.”
Fleishman said that started a process that led to the immediate suspension and, ultimately, to the termination of that employee.
Police identified the surgical tech as Rocky Allen.
According to the Order of Summary Suspension, Allen allegedly removed a labeled fentanyl syringe from the top of the Anesthesia Pyxis work space and replaced it with another labeled syringe. He later submitted to a urinalysis which was positive for fentanyl and marijuana.
“The alleged criminal actions of one former employee don’t characterize the thousands of outstanding Swedish people,” Fleishman said. “I want to make that clear.”
He said the hospital, State Health Department and Englewood Police are investigating the theft.
“Regrettably, this former employee’s actions may have exposed some of our patients to blood born infections,” Fleishman said, “including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.”
“I want to emphasize,” he added, “and this is very important, we know of only a single instance of drug diversion, on January 22. There was no exposure infection related to that.”
When asked if it’s possible that there were other diversions, the doctor replied, “We have identified one instance of a drug diversion.”
Allen’s roommate answered the door and told Denver7 that the former tech wasn’t home Thursday afternoon, and likely wouldn’t be granting any interviews. When told that many patients have questions about Allen’s health, the roommate replied, “I understand.”
Swedish and the State Health Department are recommending that all patients who underwent surgery in the Swedish Medical Center main operating room between August 17, 2015 and January 22, 2016 and at the Swedish Orthopedic Center on October 28 or December 17, 2015 be tested for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. That’s the time frame when Allen worked at the hospital.
“I am personally and the whole Swedish community are devastated by this,” Dr. Fleishman said. “We’re working really hard to help these patients.”
Jasmyn Brommer, who had surgery November 10, was among the patients worrying about whether she’d been exposed.
“It’s been nerve-wracking, she said.”
Late Thursday, Brommer received a phone call from the hospital and learned that because her surgery was performed in the Ob-Gyn area of the hospital, not the main surgical area, she was not impacted.
“A big weight lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
Late Thursday night, hospital officials said they’ve already made contact with 1545 of the 2900 patients who had surgery during that time frame. 234 have been tested.
Fleishman said those figures include patients who were operated on even during Allen’s days off.
“We’re casting a very wide net,” he said.
When asked what happens if any of the patients who get tested show signs of one of the blood borne infections, Fleishman replied, “For all these infections, there are effective treatments and those treatments are getting better all the time.”
He also said that blood borne infections are often asymptomatic.
“It’s very possible that by testing nearly 3000 patients, we’re going to discover infections that were unknown and that were unrelated to care at Swedish,” he said. “Our key focus is to test people and if they have positive tests, to get them treatment.”
When asked what steps the hospital takes to keep employees from stealing narcotic medication, Fleishman said, “We have a culture that fosters vigilance, reporting and empowers employees to take action to protect their patients. That’s exactly what happened on January 22.”
The doctor added they have a learning system at Swedish and “are constantly enhancing the security and safety measures around medication.”
He said they learned from an incident at another hospital (Rose Medical Center) in 2009.
“This incident is different,” he said, “It’s about the brazen theft of drugs and in contrast to the other event that you mentioned, we have no indication of patient exposure or infection here.”
In the Rose incident, 18 people contracted Hepatitis C after surgical technician Kristen Parker stole several syringes of fentanyl and replaced them with other “used” syringes. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In the Swedish case, Fleishman says patients can receive testing free of charge at a LabCorp of their choice by making an appointment at www.labcorp.com or by calling1-888-LAB-CORP. Patients should bring the letter they receive from Swedish Medical Center to their appointment.