Feds: Surgery tech accused of stealing drugs is HIV positive

DENVER (AP) -- Federal prosecutors in Colorado announced Wednesday that a hospital surgery technician accused of stealing painkiller syringes is HIV positive and urged patients who may have possibly been infected by him to be tested.

Authorities haven't previously described the health status of Rocky 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 only referred to him as having an undisclosed "blood-borne pathogen" during a court hearing in February.

The statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office also said Allen had tested negative for Hepatitis B and C.

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. However, 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 re-using them.

Public health officials have said the risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens is low, and there have been no reported cases of patients becoming infected because of Allen.

The case has led to warnings to patients at other hospitals where Allen worked in Arizona, California and Washington to be tested. Prosecutors have said he has a history of moving from hospital to hospital and lying about his past to steal drugs.

In Colorado, state health officials said Swedish officials attempted to notify some 3,000 patients who underwent surgery in the hospital's main operating room during Allen's employment, from August last year until January this year. In a statement, Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer and executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said complete test results were not obtained for about 1,000 patients. While the department said no evidence of transmission was found in those for whom testing was completed, it could not confirm that no diseases were passed on because testing was incomplete.

The U.S. Attorney's office and Wolk urged potentially affected patients who have not been tested to do so, noting that Swedish continues to offer them free testing.

Allen is a Navy veteran, and his lawyer says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving as a medical worker in Afghanistan, where he started using drugs.

The Colorado health department's Wolk added Wednesday that its Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division finalized a report of its investigation in April and found "deficient practice" in Swedish pharmacy services, including drug auditing procedures, infection control and surgical services.

"Ensuring accountability and tracking controlled drugs were addressed in the hospital's plan of correction," Wolk said.

Hospital spokeswoman Nicole Williams said the problems found were not directly related to the Allen case and that a later review found "zero deficiencies."

Read more at FOX 31 Denver:
Former surgical tech tests positive for HIV, may have exposed patients