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Class Claims Hospital Exposed Them to HIV

PHOENIX (CN) — A Phoenix hospital faces a class action that says it hired a needle-using, drug-abusing surgical technician who may have exposed dozens of patients to HIV and hepatitis.

HonorHealth and HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center are named as defendants to the suit filed Tuesday in Maricopa County Court.

A federal grand jury in Colorado charged surgical technician Rocky Allen with tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit. Allen worked for John C. Lincoln HonorHealth from July 28, 2014, through Oct. 6, 2014, when he was fired for testing positive for a controlled substance.

Allen had a previous employment history that indicated a problem with drug abuse, the class says.

In 2011, he was "court-martialed by the United States Navy and pleaded guilty to making a false official statement, wrongfully possessing approximately 30 vials of fentanyl, wrongly possessing a syringe containing fentanyl, stealing fentanyl, and stealing a syringe containing fentanyl," according to the complaint.

The Judge Advocate General of the Navy said these records would have been available to the hospital for review had it requested them during a background check, the complaint states.

Allen was fired by three other hospitals before he was hired at John C. Lincoln, the class claims. He was fired from two — including Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Ariz. — for stealing fentanyl syringes and testing positive for a controlled substance, and fired from another after he was caught switching a fentanyl syringe with a saline-filled syringe.

The charges against Allen came after he was fired from Swedish Medical Center in Denver for switching a fentanyl syringe with a saline-filled syringe. A class action filed against that hospital in March claims Allen may have exposed as many as 3,000 patients to blood-borne diseases.

Allen's medical records were introduced as evidence in the criminal case, but were sealed except for a reference to "a blood-borne pathogen, indicating that there is evidence that Allen is a carrier of a communicable disease or diseases," according to the new lawsuit.

The lead plaintiff says she received a letter from John C. Lincoln on Feb. 29, notifying her "that she had possibly been exposed to bloodborne pathogens during her surgical procedure and should immediately have her blood tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C."

She says the hospital owes a duty to its patients to hire employees who can be "entrusted with care of patients." Instead it "put him into the surgery department, which allowed him access to drugs that he chose to use for his own enjoyment, ignoring the risk that by using them in the manner he did, the plaintiff and the other class members could contract disease."

John C. Lincoln said in a February statement that it had identified 97 patients who had Allen as a surgical technician.

"It is important to note that the situation at our facility is different than the one in Colorado, and at this time, we have no indication there was harm to patients," the statement said.

Banner Thunderbird Medical Center faces a similar lawsuit, filed in March by five patients and their spouses.

In addition to certification, the class seeks restitution and damages for negligent hiring.

It is represented by Mark Samson with Keller Rohrback.

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