A former Colorado surgical technologist indicted on charges of drug tampering and endangering patients is raising worries about possible infection risk at Washington hospitals and medical facilities where he worked.
Nearly 1,500 people who had surgery at two hospitals in 2011 and 2012 are being warned to be tested for possible hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV infection, said Julie Graham, a spokeswoman for Washington’s Department of Health.
Earlier estimates that 2,000 people were at possible risk have been revised, she said.
The hospitals include Seattle’s Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, which sent warning letters to more than 1,300 patients who underwent surgery in late 2011 and 2012, according to spokeswoman Karen Peck. Lakewood Surgery Center in Lakewood is notifying about 135 patients who underwent surgery in late 2011 of potential risk.
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The issue stems from the February indictment of Rocky Allen, 28, who was charged with stealing a syringe of the painkiller fentanyl in January and replacing it with another substance. He later tested positive for fentanyl and marijuana, federal court records show.
His action put nearly 3,000 patients at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado, at potential risk from needle swapping and raised concerns about his actions at previous jobs.
Allen has also been accused of diverting drugs at hospitals in California and Arizona and tested positive for a blood pathogen, raising potential infection risk, Lakewood officials said.
On Wednesday, state health officials said they suspended Allen’s Washington credential on Feb. 29 after learning about the Colorado allegations. Allen had recently applied to have his license reactivated in Washington state, Graham said. The suspension prevents him from renewing his license until legal issues are resolved.
Court records show Allen worked at Northwest from January to March 2012. He worked at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bremerton from 2008 to 2011, a spokeswoman said. He also worked briefly at Lakewood Surgery Center in late 2011, state health officials said.
Officials with Public Health - Seattle & King County notified Northwest officials in early February that Allen was being investigated for drug tampering that may have endangered patients.
There’s no evidence of any patient exposure at the hospital and the risk of potential infection is “extremely low,” Northwest Hospital officials said.
“We are deeply saddened that the actions of a former employee may have placed our patients at risk and we understand the concern this notification may cause our patients and their loved ones,” Northwest officials said in an online statement.
Lakewood officials said they would offer free, confidential blood tests to patients who had surgery during the time in question.
The naval hospital in Bremerton declined to notify patients because Allen tested negative for blood-borne pathogens during his employment, indicating no risk to patients, said Jessica Alexander, a hospital spokeswoman. Alexander said she did not know how many patients had surgery at the naval hospital during Allen’s tenure.
The Washington investigation included help from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials said.
Local officials did not issue an alert earlier about potential problems linked to Allen because they were notifying patients individually and the risk to the public is believed to be very low, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County.