By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
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By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
"I want to become normal again," she told her interrogators. "I know I'm a good person."
Many of Parker's statements have been presented as fact in news coverage and even in the language of the indictment against her. But that doesn't make them true. In some instances, she didn't even say what others claim she said. The federal indictment says she admitted diverting drugs fifteen to twenty times, but that was a detective's guess, not Parker's — and, judging from the number of Rose surgery patients who've tested positive for hepatitis with the 1b genotype, it's a far too conservative estimate. She told the police she started stealing fentanyl in January; the suspected hep C infections of surgery patients started months earlier.
Through her attorney, Parker declined an interview request for this article. But traces of a long and troubled drug history can be found in her police statement and court records, on her MySpace page ("I have a crazy fascination with needles...I just like the way they feel!") and elsewhere. She told the detectives that she'd had jaw surgery at age seven and that the experience "got the ball rolling," giving her an appreciation for the wonder drugs she received to combat pain. It may also have sparked an interest in a medical career.
4567 E. 9th Ave.
Denver, CO 80220
Category: Medical Facilities
Region: East Denver
Parker grew up in Houston. She enrolled in nursing school but apparently found the requirements too daunting, and dropped out in favor of an eighteen-month certification as a surgical technician — someone who helps prepare operating rooms for surgery and cleans up afterward. "I always wanted to work in surgery," she told the police.
She began working as a scrub tech at a New York hospital in 2004, followed by a stint back in Houston and then a move to Colorado last fall. But the work was sporadic, with considerable downtime and personal turmoil between hospital jobs. She waited tables in New Jersey and got into a bad car accident. She was married, divorced, then gave birth to a son in 2007. She also shot heroin with friends, reportedly entered a methadone program at one point, and eventually discovered fentanyl, a synthetic opioid a hundred times stronger than morphine. Often administered in a transdermal patch to control chronic pain, fentanyl is also extensively relied upon in surgery because of its fast-acting but short-lived effects when injected — which have made it a sought-after street drug, too.
Last summer, while living in New Jersey, Parker was back on heroin and sharing needles. She may have been exposed to hepatitis C before that, but she told investigators she was unaware that she had the virus when she applied for work at Rose Medical Center. As part of the screening process for new employees, she submitted blood for testing on October 9, 2008. Eleven days later, on her first day of work, she met with Rose representatives to discuss the results.
Parker would later insist that she was told she "might" have hepatitis C: "They said, 'There are some numbers here that are a little higher than normal, you might want to get them checked out.' The way they explained it, it wasn't a pressing issue."
HealthONE's Garvin says there's no ambiguity about Rose's pre-employment blood screen: You either test positive for hepatitis C or you don't. "I have never seen her file, but it's my understanding that she did test positive," Garvin says. "We were following industry standards. Not all facilities do pre-screening tests for hepatitis and other infectious diseases, so I think we were actually above industry standards."
Parker told police it was "in the back of my head" to follow up on the tests and see a physician at some point, but she didn't have health insurance and was focused on starting her new job. Rose officials say she was referred to a free clinic and received standard precautions about managing the disease and not exposing others to risk. The hospital couldn't restrict her from OR work simply because she tested positive. "There are potential discrimination issues if we keep someone out of a particular medical area," says Rose spokeswoman Cara Harshberger.
It was Parker's responsibility to drape instrument trays in the operating room, to assist in gowning and gloving the surgeons — in short, to maintain the sterile environment required for surgery. She was not supposed to administer any medications. At Rose, every OR has its own code-operated, automated drug dispensary, which keeps track of what drugs are used, by whom and when. The anesthesiologist is the only one authorized to operate it, although nurses can also be sent to the pharmacist for additional meds. Any drugs left over after the operation are supposed to be disposed of in front of witnesses, who sign off on forms that track every ounce of controlled substances.
But the elaborate system is chiefly effective in limiting access to drugs like fentanyl before the preparations for surgery begin. The drug machine isn't designed to stop a diversion of drugs that occurs at the point of delivery, when whoever is supposed to be supervising turns away or leaves the room. Such episodes take only a few seconds, but that was sufficient opportunity for Parker.