Why Rocky Allen, HIV-Positive Surgical Needle-Swapper, Got Extra Year in Prison
A Facebook photo of Rocky Allen. Additional images, a video and more below.
Update: In our recent post about carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer that's been linked to at least two Colorado heroin deaths, we cited a number of individuals accused of stealing fentanyl, a related, though less powerful, synthetic opioid. Among them was Rocky Allen, an HIV-positive surgical technician sentenced last year to six and a half years behind bars for allegedly swapping out needles in order to inject himself with the drug. More recently, Allen has been ordered to spend an additional year in captivity for taking an unauthorized trip before reporting to prison.
As we note in previous coverage on view below, the discovery of Allen's improper syringe use resulted in the testing of nearly 3,000 Swedish Medical Center patients at possible risk for contracting a bloodborne illness from him. Hence his 78-month sentence on two federal drug-theft beefs.
After Allen entered guilty pleas on the counts, a judge reportedly ordered him not to travel to Idaho to visit family before turning himself in — but Allen went anyhow. The jaunt led to an additional contempt-of-court allegation and, ultimately, another year in stir.
Continue for our earlier items.
Update, 5:41 a.m. November 18, 2016: Rocky Allen, the surgical tech who allegedly traded out needles to inject himself with the painkiller fentanyl even though he is HIV-positive (see our previous coverage below), has been sentenced to 78 months, or six and a half years, in federal prison.
Additionally, the first court date for a lawsuit related to Allen's actions has been set in Washington, one of four states where litigation is being pursued in relation to his behavior.
Allen's offenses in Colorado are tied to his employment at Swedish Medical Center, and in announcing his sentence (which also includes three years of supervised release), the U.S. Attorney's Office has provided additional details about exactly what went down this past January 22.
On that date, according to court documents, a surgical team was gathered in an operating room when Allen entered, despite not being assigned to the case. He then "took a syringe originally loaded with 5 mL of 50 mcg/mL fentanyl and replaced it with another syringe containing saline solution," the U.S. Attorney's Office notes. "Allen had falsely labeled the replacement syringe with a sticker identifying the contents of the syringe as fentanyl. By switching the syringes, Allen introduced a syringe falsely purporting to contain fentanyl for use on a patient of the hospital."
Fortunately, the replacement syringe wasn't used on a patient; a staffer in the operating room saw Allen switch the syringes and informed the anesthesiologist.
Another Facebook photo of Rocky Allen.
That same day, a urine test given to Allen revealed the presence of fentanyl, norfentanyl and marijuana — a discovery that led to the testing of nearly 3,000 patients at Swedish for various blood-borne illnesses. Then, in June, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced that Allen carried the HIV virus; he tested negative for hepatitis B and C.
Thus far, there have been no reports of patients contracting HIV due to the needle-swapping. But in a statement, acting U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said, “Allen put hundreds of innocent people at risk and caused them enormous fear and anxiety. His prosecution and sentence should send a chilling message to any medical professional who abuses his or her position of trust: You will go to federal prison for a long time.”
At the time of sentencing, Allen was free on bond and living in a halfway house. He now has fifteen days to report to a Bureau of Prisons facility for what's technically known as "designation."
In the meantime, attorney James Avery, corresponding by e-mail, writes that "the civil case of Tong v. Northwest Hospital, a Rocky Allen HIV exposure case, has been set for a trial date of May 22, 2017. I expect it will be the first of the four state cases pending to go to trial." The other facilities involved are UW Northwest Hospital in Seattle, Washington, Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, California, Banner Thunderbird Hospital in Glendale, Arizona, and Swedish.
Continue for our previous coverage.
Swedish Medical Center.
Original post, 5:39 a.m. June 2: Earlier this year, we introduced you to surgical tech Rocky Allen, who was accused of swapping needles to inject the high-powered painkiller fentanyl — a situation that led to a recommendation that nearly 3,000 patients be tested for hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV.
Most of those patients complied, but approximately 500 have not done so thus far — and getting them to take part has just become even more important.
Why? The U.S. Attorney's Office has just announced that Allen has tested positive for HIV.
Meanwhile, a mass-tort-action case against HCA-Healthone, the owner of Swedish Medical Center, which employed Allen, maintains that the hospital failed to properly check his records before hiring him — because he was court-martialed from the Army for stealing fentanyl.
As we've reported, Allen celebrated his gig at Swedish in an August 2015 post on his now-deleted Facebook page.
"So it's official, I start my new job at Swedish Medical on Monday!" he wrote. "Super excited to be back in the OR and fixing some people!"
Investigators believe he did more than that.
On January 22, Allen allegedly swapped out the label of a syringe loaded with fentanyl. Afterward, he's said to have tested positive for fentanyl (as well as marijuana), leading to the supposition that he's an intravenous drug user.
A week later, Allen's license as a surgical tech was suspended.
In the days after Allen's alleged fentanyl gambit was discovered, Swedish officials scrambled to determine how many patients may have undergone surgical procedures at which Allen was present between August and January.
Another Facebook photo of Rocky Allen.
The estimate: approximately 2,900 people.
The letter reaching out to them is dated February 1 and signed by Richard A. Hammet, the president and CEO of Swedish.
One passage reads:
At Swedish Medical Center, we take to heart every day our mission, “Above All Else, We Are Committed to the Care and Improvement of Human Life.” Swedish employees, nurses and physicians work very hard to ensure the safest, quality patient experience.
We deeply regret that one of our former employees may have put patients at risk, and are sorry for any uncertainty or anxiety this may cause. Please know our first concern is your health, and the care, safety and privacy of our patients.
Most of the patients in question were tested, and to date, no cases of hepatitis or HIV linked to Allen have surfaced. However, the U.S. Attorney's Office notes that "approximately 500 of those initially tested did not participate in recommended follow-up testing" — and their non-compliance is concerning, given Allen's HIV-positive status, which he consented to make public.
The U.S. Attorney's Office and Swedish jointly encourage potentially affected patients to be tested — something that's being done without charge. The number to call is 303-788-4646.
The latest developments could provide even more fodder for the aforementioned mass tort action against Swedish's parent company. (Update: A class-action lawsuit in the matter was dismissed on May 4.)
Nonetheless, the local document, filed in March, contains a particularly interesting passage in regard to Allen's alleged fentanyl use and his hiring at Swedish. It reads in part:
The reckless actions and conduct of Rocky Allen were foreseeable based on the fact that he 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.
The doc is below, following reports from Fox31 featuring patients and their loved ones freaked out by Allen's HIV-positive status.
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