Reacting to Colo. arrest, Scripps offers testing to 518

By Paul Sisson

The Colorado arrest of a former surgical technician trainee who briefly worked at Scripps Green Hospital in 2013 has prompted the facility offer free hepatitis and HIV testing to more than 500 patients.

Scripps said Monday that it contacting patients who underwent surgical procedures during shifts worked by Rocky Allen, 28, during a 20-day period from May 9 to June 7 of 2013, to offer them the testing.

Federal agents arrested Allen on Feb. 16 on charges of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit, after he was allegedly caught diverting drugs from Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, a Denver suburb.

On Friday, federal investigators detailed Allen’s employment history in court, noting that, when he worked at Green, a hospital worker saw him try “to switch a syringe of fentanyl citrate — a pain medication — with a syringe of saline.”

Scripps officials said Monday that it was a nurse who spotted Allen’s attempted sleight of hand, and he was immediately pulled from duty and eventually fired. It was a similar incident at the Colorado hospital on Jan. 22 that tipped authorities off, leading to a wider investigation.

Every hospital where Allen worked is now offering free testing for blood-borne infections — hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV — to anyone who underwent surgery while he was present. Swedish in Englewood is reportedly testing 2,900 patients. Two hospitals in Phoenix are offering tests to thousands more.

According to accounts of a recent hearing in Colorado, Allen carries an unnamed blood-borne pathogen, giving rise to concerns that he may have inadvertently passed an infection to a patient when exchanging syringes.

It was a sharp-eyed nurse, Scripps said, that spotted the technician try to swap syringes while helping set up for a surgery. Because he was a trainee, he was under supervision of a proctor at all times.

Dr. Maida Soghikian, chief of staff at Green, said that there are no indications that any syringes handled by Allen were ever used with an actual patient.

“We are going along with public health recommendations out of an abundance of caution,” Soghikian said, adding that Allen was scheduled to be in 55 different surgeries during the 20-day span that he worked at Green.

The incident points up a larger problem in health care known as medication diversion. Though hospitals have drastically increased oversight of narcotic painkillers in recent years — even installing automated “Pyxis” machines that make it difficult for drugs to go missing — powerful drugs still do go missing.

A 2014 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented 100 infections, and nearly 30,000 patients potentially exposed to infections, due to drug theft.

Kim New, owner of Diversion Specialists, a Tennessee consultancy that specializes in helping hospitals get better control of their drugs, said trying to swap syringes in an operating room with other health care workers was particularly brazen. More often, she said, workers find less easily-spotted ways to take drugs without getting noticed.

“I’ve worked on cases where masters-prepared nurses, we’re talking extremely-well-educated professionals, have been involved in diverting drugs from sharps waste containers,” New said.

Scripps said its surgical teams were given extra training in how to spot drug theft after the Allen incident in 2013.

Scripps officials also said they made the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration aware of the reasons for Allen’s termination.

Allen remained employed in patient care. Investigators said he worked for John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix in October, 2014, when he tested positive for fentanyl while employed as a surgical attendant. He also worked for Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Arizona, for six weeks in 2014.

A Scripps official said Allen passed the routine background check, drug test and reference check administered to all new hires by the company’s human resources department.

Published by – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Leave a Reply