Banner Thunderbird among hospitals sued for failure to protect patients

This case underscores the need to keep medications in visual custody or secured in procedural settings. It only takes a second for a savvy diverter to swap out syringes. There are patients that have been potentially exposed to bloodborne pathogens as the result of tampering and substitution by a surgical tech who worked in California, Washington, Arizona and Colorado. – Kim New
By Darrell Jackson

Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale is among two Arizona hospitals being sued for failing to protect patients from a fentanyl addict with a blood disease who once worked at the medical center.

Rocky Allen worked at Banner Thunderbird for approximately six weeks in 2014 (May 19 until July 2) and at Honor Health John C. Lincoln for two months in 2014 (July 28 until Sept. 26), before being fired for testing positive for use of a controlled substance.


Denver attorney James Avery filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court March 25 against Banner Thunderbird and John C. Lincoln Medical Center in Phoenix for failing to protect patients against Allen.

Banner Thunderbird’s Bill Byron, vice-president of Public Relations, said the hospital has taken steps to contact any patients that may have had contact with Allen.

“Patients that received surgery during Allen’s employment have been contacted,” Byron said. “We just started the testing process, and have no information about any test results.”

Allen, 28, has been charged in Colorado with stealing fentanyl from Swedish Medical Center in Englewood and replacing it with a syringe containing none of the powerful narcotic painkiller. He carries a blood-borne pathogen, according to a federal court disclosure that did not name the disease.

According to a federal indictment, Allen had a “reckless disregard” to the risk of others at the Englewood, Colo. hospital, when he allegedly tampered with syringes containing fentanyl and replaced them with syringes filled with a different substance. If convicted on two counts, he faces up to 14 years in federal prison and fines up to $500,000. He has pleaded not guilty.

Altogether, about 5,000 patients in Colorado, Arizona, Washington and California have been offered free blood tests for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

To date, no hospital has confirmed that Allen infected anyone.

In the case against Banner Thunderbird, Avery said “(this case) involves an indescribable nightmare imposed on a vulnerable group of people – hospital patients undergoing surgery. The defendants employed a long-time drug addict, Rocky Allen, as a surgical technician without adequately conducting a background check, without adequately supervising him, and without putting in place adequate safeguards.”

The lawsuit names six plaintiffs – four patients and two spouses – that have been subjected to “emotional distress and a risk of infection.”

Byron said the hospital is aware of the situation and is investigating.

“As a health institution, patient safety is paramount to us and we certainly understand the gravity of the situation occurring in Colorado,” Byron said. “However, as a matter of policy, we are unable to comment on employee matters. We understand this situation may cause anxiety among some of our former patients, and we apologize for that.”

Byron added that if you were a surgery patient at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center during the time Allen was employed there, the hospital is in the process of establishing free testing for hepatitis B & C and HIV. Contact the hospital at 602-865-5555 for more information.

Published by: The Glendale Star

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