A former surgical technologist who worked in Lakewood among other hospitals in Washington state and Colorado and is accused of stealing painkiller syringes is HIV positive, federal prosecutors in Colorado said Wednesday. They urged patients to be tested.
Nearly 1,500 patients who had surgery at two Washington hospitals where Rocky Allen worked in 2011 and 2012 were warned this year to be tested for possible infection with hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV because of concerns about needle-swapping.
Allen worked at Seattle’s Northwest Hospital & Medical Center during that period, and officials failed to properly report that he was fired in March 2012 for touching a syringe of propofol, a powerful anesthetic, on an operating-room cart. He previously had been told not to linger near the anesthesia cart.
Northwest Hospital sent warning letters to more than 1,300 patients who underwent surgery in late 2011 and 2012. Lakewood Surgery Center in Lakewood has notified about 135 patients who underwent surgery in late 2011 of potential risk.
Before Wednesday, authorities had not described the health status of Allen, who has pleaded not guilty to charges that he took a syringe of painkillers and replaced it with one containing another substance at Swedish Medical Center in suburban Denver. Prosecutors previously referred to him only as having an undisclosed “blood-borne pathogen” during a court hearing in February.
Allen had tested negative for hepatitis B and C, the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office also said.
The fear is that Allen may have replaced the needles intended for patients with syringes he previously used, making it possible for patients to be infected. Allen’s public defender, Timothy O’Hara, has said that while evidence showed Allen may have switched syringes, there was no reason to believe he was reusing them.
Public-health officials have said the risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens is low, and there have been no reports of patients becoming infected because of Allen.
In Washington, Allen also worked at Lakewood Surgery Center in Lakewood and at Naval Hospital Bremerton.
Authorities say someone saw Allen take a syringe filled with painkillers from an operating room at the Denver area center Jan. 22. The hospital fired him, and three weeks later federal prosecutors charged him with tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit.
Investigations revealed Allen faced similar allegations in three other states, including Washington. Allen’s lawyer says he has post-traumatic stress disorder after serving as a Navy medical worker in Afghanistan, where he started using drugs.