Swedish hospital surgical tech court-martialed for drug theft in 2011

By Christopher N. Osher and David Olinger

The surgical technologist whose alleged theft of powerful liquid painkillers may have exposed thousands of hospital patients to disease was court-martialed in 2011 for stealing the same drugs while deployed with an Army unit in Afghanistan.

During that court-martial, Rocky Allen pleaded guilty to making a false official statement, wrongfully possessing about 30 vials of fentanyl, wrongly possessing a syringe containing fentanyl, stealing fentanyl and stealing a syringe containing fentanyl, according to a summary released Friday by military authorities.

Allen went on to work at four hospitals in three states, all of which fired him, before he came to Colorado. Swedish Medical Center in Englewood hired him in August and fired him last month after he allegedly was caught swapping a fentanyl syringe with one containing none of the drug.

Swedish alerted authorities, and Allen now  faces federal drug-diversion charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty. The hospital is offering tests for hepatitis and HIV to 2,900 patients, and several other hospitals are offering tests. Authorities said Allen has a bloodborne pathogen but gave no more details.

The records of the court-martial would have been available to any of the hospitals if they had requested them as part of a hiring background check process, said Jennifer Zeldis, a public affairs officer with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of Navy. She added that a telephone call from a hospital to the Navy’s personnel command inquiring about Allen’s military service also would have revealed the court martial.

The Navy released the information in response to a request from The Denver Post.

Allen was enlisted in the Navy, where he was a surgical tech, but was deployed with an Army unit in Afghanistan. The court-martial was convened by the Army.

He was sentenced to 90 days’ confinement, which was reduced to 60 days in accordance with a pretrial agreement, the summary showed. He also received a one-step reduction in rank. About six months later, he received a general discharge from the Navy.

Records show that Allen regularly touted his military experience when seeking jobs with hospitals. Whether the hospitals that hired him followed up by probing his past military experiences is unclear.

During a court hearing Feb. 19, prosecutors submitted in federal court some of the applications Allen submitted to hospitals.

In an application to HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center in Phoenix, which hired him in 2014, Allen wrote: “Great critical thinker with years of training and skills working under stress and reacting quickly to emergency patient care situations to include the one year I spent at the NATO Role 3 hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan with the U.S. Navy.”

He said in that application that he left the military because of the end of his enlistment. He granted permission for the hospital to contact the Navy as a reference before hiring him.

The person who interviewed him for that job recorded that Allen had mentioned during the interview that he had experienced some conflict with another tech during his deployment in Afghanistan. He said he let his leaders handle the conflict.

The Phoenix hospital fired Allen after he tested positive for fentanyl.

When he sought a job as a surgical tech in 2013 at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., he stated on his application: “My time in the military has thought (sic) me to become and (sic) outstanding leader. I can bring an aspect to the team that not many can, my experiences have molded my way of thinking.”

He was hired by Scripps in May 2013 but was fired a month later after he was observed replacing a doctor’s fentanyl syringe with a syringe filled with saline, according to court documents. When confronted, he produced the fentanyl syringe, which he had hidden in his sock, and admitted that he planned to inject it, his termination letter there states.

Scripps officials  notified the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of the theft but not the local police.

He was fired by Northwest Hospital & Medical Center in Seattle in March 2012 after working there for less than three months.

Allen also worked at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Ariz., for about six weeks in 2014.

Allen’s termination records from Swedish state he was observed in an operating room to which he was not assigned. A witness saw him take a syringe of fentanyl and saw him replace it with another syringe that did not contain fentanyl, that document states.

In the federal court hearing, Allen’s lawyer disclosed that his client had drug problems during his Navy service and blamed the Navy for failing to treat him for stress and substance abuse.

During 10 months in Afghanistan, Allen worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, “and every day, death was sitting and laying before him,” public defender Timothy O’Hara told the court.

“As one can imagine, he did not return the same way he went,” O’Hara said. “He received a general discharge based on an incident that occurred while he was in the armed forces relating to similar conduct.”

And without treatment, “he’s released to the world with a million problems in his head.”

O’Hara also argued that Allen’s later drug abuse was limited to the hospitals that hired him.

“There is no evidence to suggest,” he said, “that he is using anything other than what he was able to get his hands on as an employee of these institutions.”

Published by – The Denver Post

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