Colorado hospital sued over exposure to disease from ex-surgical tech

DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado hospital has been sued by three former surgery patients who say they were among nearly 3,000 people possibly exposed to a blood-borne disease carried by a drug-addicted former medical technician, court records showed on Tuesday.

The Swedish Medical Center in suburban Denver is accused of negligence in its hiring and supervision of a surgical technologist who was caught trying to switch a syringe containing the powerful opiate fentanyl citrate with another substance during a patient’s surgery in January.

The technician, Rocky Allen, 28, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver last month on one count of tampering with a consumer product and one count of obtaining a controlled substance by deceit, both felonies.

The civil complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, said federal authorities in the criminal case testified at a criminal hearing last month that Allen is a carrier of an unspecified “blood-borne pathogen.”

The incident prompted the hospital to notify some 2,900 patients who underwent surgery at the facility from August 2015 to January 2016 during Allen’s employment to be screened for HIV, and hepatitis B and C.

The three patients suing underwent surgery during that time frame and are seeking monetary damages for emotional distress.

The three plaintiffs have all tested negative for the blood-borne diseases, but have been told that they will need to be screened for up to another six months, the lawsuit said.

Allen previously worked as a surgical technician at hospitals in Washington state, Arizona, California and the U.S. Navy, court documents show.

The lawsuit alleges Allen was fired from “numerous” jobs for drug-related offenses and was court-martialed by the navy and pleaded guilty to stealing fentanyl while deployed with a U.S. Army unit in Afghanistan.

“Despite a history of drug addiction, (Swedish) hired Allen…and allowed Allen access to operating rooms and syringes containing fentanyl and other narcotics,” the suit said.

Swedish said in a statement that after the incident, the hospital fired Allen immediately, reported the incident to authorities, and notified patients, which it said the other facilities where Allen worked did not do.

“We will defend ourselves vigorously,” the statement said.

The lawsuit names Swedish and its parent companies, Hospital Corporation of America and HealthONE, Inc. as defendants.

Allen posted a $25,000 bond and ordered into a halfway house pending the outcome of his criminal case.

Editing by Victoria Cavaliere and Michael Perry