Hospital Lab Tech in Colorado May Have Infected 5,700 With Hepatitis

This is a gruesome story. Kristen Diane Parker, a lab/surgery tech at Rose Hospital in Denver (one of our most prominent medical centers) who was infected with Hepatitis C, stole syringes filled with the pain-killer Fentanyl from the OR, shot herself up, put saline in the used syringes and replaced them on the rack in the OR. She got fired and went to work in Colorado Springs where she did the same thing.

Rose Hospital is sending out letters to everyone who had surgery during the months she worked there to advise them they may be exposed to Hepatitis C.

Authorities say Parker admitted to changing out syringes containing a saline solution with ones filled with the painkiller Fentanyl. Parker injected herself with the drug, according to a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver.

An affidavit by Mary F. LaFrance, an investigator for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says at least nine surgery patients at Rose have tested positive for hepatitis C, which is incurable. About 6,000 patients are being advised they may have been exposed and need to be tested.

The affidavit supporting the federal criminal charges against her is here (pdf). [More...]

And, get this:

Hospital officials said they knew the technician had the virus when she was hired. She began work Oct. 21, 2008. She was fired April 13.

Parker has confessed and told authorities she is a former heroin user:

In a videotaped interview Monday with police, according to the Gazette, Parker told a detective she used heroin from July to September last year. She allegedly told the investigator she thought she caught the virus from injecting herself with dirty needles.

After a co-worker reported she was stabbed by a needle protuding from Parker's pocket and that Parker had been in an OR room without reason to be there, she was given a drug test which came back positive for Fetanyl and was fired. She then went to work for the Audubon Ambulatory Surgery Center in Colorado Springs, from May 4 until Monday when she was arrested. Parker told police she did the same thing at Audobon she did at Rose. Up to 1,000 patients at Audobon may be infected.

If you had surgery at Rose, you should get a letter by Tuesday or Wednesday. There's a hotline set up which has been very busy today. As to Hepatitis C,

An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C virus infection. Most people don't look or feel sick.

What happens: For every 100 people who do contract the disease, 75 to 85 will develop a chronic infection. About 60 to 70 will develop chronic liver disease. About five to 20 will develop cirrhosis over a period of 20 to 30 years. Between one and five will die of liver cancer or cirrhosis.

As TChris just posted, the war on drugs encourages illicit drug use. If Parker had been able to legally get her Fetanyl or heroin, and clean needles, she wouldn't have resorted to this awful switcheroo and 6,000 ordinary citizens would not be at risk of infection with an incurable disease.

< Study: Drug War Encourages Illicit Drug Use | Is There a HouseGate in Sarah Palin's Future? >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    wow (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by kmblue on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:40:50 PM EST
    She got fired in Denver and hired in Colorado Springs?

    How'd she do that?

    My guess, shortage of nurses (none / 0) (#8)
    by andgarden on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:49:07 PM EST
    She wasn't a nurse - she was a (none / 0) (#12)
    by Anne on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:57:56 PM EST
    lab/surgery tech.  But shortage of nurses undoubtedly means not enough people knowing what the heck was going on.

    Good point (none / 0) (#13)
    by andgarden on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 08:00:42 PM EST
    Here's a question, what was a "tech" doing with unfettered and apparently unmonitored access to a Schedule II narcotic?

    She stole them from the OR. (none / 0) (#15)
    by Fabian on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 08:49:49 PM EST
    It's actually quite difficult to get drugs in a hospital, because the access is tightly controlled.  

    A similar scam was done by a pharmacist who was caught diluting various drugs in order to make a profit.  No hepatitis C or addiction, just simple greed.  One of the drugs he diluted was used for chemotherapy.  He was caught because of the discrepancy between the prescriptions he wrote and the supplies he received.  


    My guess (none / 0) (#19)
    by cal1942 on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 11:37:58 PM EST
    is that the hospital in Colorado Springs was negligent, didn't bother to follow-up on her dismissal in Denver.

    So, not only did this woman potentially (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Anne on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:54:38 PM EST
    infect thousands of people with Hep-C, these same people probably suffered from not having received the pain medication that was supposed to be in those syringes - and were probably told, "I'm sorry, you were given pain meds before you left the OR and we cannot give you anymore for 4 hours."

    I was given Fentanyl in the OR just prior to my shoulder surgery, to pre-medicate for pain and to relax me; I can't imagine the difference had I gotten saline instead.

    of course, that (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by JamesTX on Sat Jul 04, 2009 at 01:43:14 AM EST
    was the first thing that struck me. It makes you feel real good about going into surgery, doesn't it, now? I had people tell me at a small rural hospital that the staff stole a substantial portion of the narcotics before it got to patients. It isn't so uncommon, evidently. I think those morphine pump delivery systems help with that, but I don't know for sure how all that works.

    I am absolutely terrified that I will be awake during surgery or get saline for pain while some tech gets my meds. I am fairly sure a night nurse took my pain meds one time when I was in the hospital. She had a little sh*t eating grin on her face, some peculiar mannerisms which reminded me of drug users, and the shots she gave me had no effect on my pain. When the shift changed, the first shot would knock me out. That is one reason I have delayed surgery for as long as I have, and I don't know if I really can voluntarily consent to it for that very reason.

    This is another example of the horror brought about by the drug war. This phenomenon is absolutely directly attributable to drug prohibition. Perhaps I should say that again. This horror is absolutely directly attributable to drug prohibition. If people could see that, they might begin to understand why prohibition is such a demonstrably bad idea. This argument sure trumps any abstract hypothesizing about how prohibition makes so much sense because "drugs ruin lives". Prohibition laws ruin lives much more than drugs themselves. If the small percentage of hospital employees who need the drugs actually had access to drugs, I don't think they would dare steal from surgery patients. Want to know something? I would much, much, much rather my surgery tech be taking pain killers than to have them steal my pain meds. In fact, I would rather my surgery tech be on pain killers than to be in pain! I believe anyone who thinks otherwise is seriously deluded.  


    And the solution to our health-care problems is... (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by rdandrea on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 10:10:39 PM EST
    Tort reform!

    Because after all, if you sue a hospital for letting something like this happen, it's greedy lawyers who are at fault, not the people who actually let it happen in the first place.

    The first time, I can almost understand.  But some other hospital hiring this same person?

    And by the way, if I ever have to sue somebody for leaving tools inside of me, there ain't gonna be no da*ned lawyer behind it...

    She probably lied. (none / 0) (#21)
    by Fabian on Sat Jul 04, 2009 at 10:34:52 AM EST
    If I worked at a hospital (which I did) and I applied to work at another hospital, I'm sure my potential employer would check with my previous employer.

    And if the second hospital did check and found out she was fired for stealing drugs, she couldn't get a job picking up trash in the parking lot.  Hospitals are paranoid about liability and a known thief and drug addict is not someone they want anywhere near patients.

    The hospital is certainly partly to blame - but this woman probably lied just to get hired.


    re: [new] She probably lied. (none / 0) (#22)
    by JDEUNO on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 05:55:11 PM EST
    Being a former employee in the human resources department, we were always told that when someone called about previous employees, we were told to only say "This person worked here from [original hire date] until [termination date]."  I'm pretty sure this is still the law of the land, so if that hospital call to inquire about here, that is all they were told - the time frame in which that employee worked there - that is it.

    This is horrible, and somewhat foretold... (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by jerry on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 10:11:08 PM EST
    So this is horrible and my thoughts as citizen and sometime patient go out to all who were exposed.

    If you're looking for a darkly funny book that uses fentanyl stealing by an addicted um, brute by a sort of nice guy thug monster as a humorous sub-plot, than pick up Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen.

    That's horrifying (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:29:41 PM EST

    It's especially disconcerting (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:36:31 PM EST
    to me since all of my doctors for the past 30 years have their offices at Rose, and were I to need surgery, that's where I'd go. It's the only hospital I know.The TL kid was born there and both of my parents had surgeries there. It's shocking to me that this woman worked there for months pulling this scam off before being detected.

    Echoes of the transfusion nightmares (none / 0) (#10)
    by andgarden on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:53:26 PM EST
    of the 80s. Not to mention the various tainted blood products. (But those were tainted right off the line).

    Nail her. (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:37:11 PM EST
    So no needle exchanges where she lived/worked?

    Needle exchanges don't come (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:38:11 PM EST
    filled with drugs. Because drugs are illegal.

    So true. But needle exchanges help (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:40:01 PM EST
    limit transmission of disease.

    But she needed (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:41:37 PM EST
    to replace the needle containing the drug which she took off the rack with the same one (filled with saline after she used the drug) or else it would have been detected immediately.

    If the needles were tamper-evident (were they?) (none / 0) (#9)
    by andgarden on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 07:50:00 PM EST
    it should have been detectible anyway.

    I smell major tort liability.


    I imagine (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jen M on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 08:40:57 PM EST
    quite a few people want a word with her.

    How does a hep-c positive person allowed near a surgery suite?

    Surgery techs (5.00 / 0) (#16)
    by Fabian on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 08:56:37 PM EST
    don't usually have anything to do with actual surgery.  

    Hepatitis is relatively hard to transmit, because it is a blood borne illness.  It's not like a cold or the flu.

    Not sure how well hospitals screen employees for diseases.  TB screens are certain.  Most hospitals will also do criminal background checks.  


    Hep C treatment is really nasty too. (none / 0) (#23)
    by polizeros on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 10:23:18 PM EST
    Treatment for Hep C often involves taking a shot once a week for several months. The shot nauseates and absolutely flattens people, puts them out of commission for a couple of days.