Rocky Elbert Allen, the medical technician suspected of stealing drugs and contaminating surgical instruments at six Western hospitals, has tested positive for HIV, the Denver U.S. attorney’s office said.
Confirmation that Allen has the virus that causes AIDS poses an added concern for 6,400 surgical patients in California, Washington, Colorado and Arizona who may have been exposed to infection by Allen’s alleged needle swapping, said an attorney who has filed lawsuits against five of the hospitals.
Everyone exposed and their families are squarely facing HIV risk on a new level.
“Everyone exposed and their families are squarely facing HIV risk on a new level,” said Denver lawyer James Avery, who has been contacted by 150 former patients seeking legal representation. “It was abstract before; now it is tangible and the reaction is mostly devastation, fear and anger.”
The U.S. attorney’s office said it was releasing the test results so former patients could be fully informed.
Many of the patients at hospitals where Allen worked as a surgical technician — in or around Denver, San Diego, Seattle and Phoenix — have already been tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C in the wake of his February indictment. Federal prosecutors this week said no cases of HIV have been detected in the Denver testing and that Allen tested negative for hepatitis.
Avery said test results are far from complete at all the hospitals and more testing is needed. For example, almost 3,000 patients who had surgery at Swedish Medical Center in suburban Denver during the time Allen worked there (from August 2015 until he was fired in January 2016) were notified to come in for free tests. About 2,500 did so, prosecutors say, but so far only 2,000 have returned for retesting.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone tested within three months of a potential HIV exposure be retested three months later to confirm the results.
Most of the hospitals also failed to report Allen’s firings to authorities, making it difficult for anyone to follow his trail.
The drug thefts, according to prosecutors, “occurred at virtually each and every healthcare facility dating back to his employment with the Navy,” where Allen, according to service records, confessed to stealing 30 syringes of the pain narcotic fentanyl from a NATO field hospital.
Allen — who went to high school in Boise, Idaho, and attended the University of Washington in Seattle — said after his 2011 court-martial that he was getting help for his drug abuse but “it could take months, possibly years, before I fully recover from my experiences.”
During his five years as a surgical technician at U.S. hospitals, Allen was suspected of swapping sterile needles with syringes he previously used, possibly exposing patients to infection, according to court records.
Allen’s attorney, Timothy O’Hara, has argued that while Allen might have switched syringes, there was no evidence he had used them. Allen has pleaded not guilty and faces trial in August.
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Anderson is a special correspondent.