Barton starts New Year eight months early |

Barton starts New Year eight months early

Rick Chandler

New Year’s Day is coming early at Barton Memorial Hospital – really early.

On May 1, 1999, Dave Grussendorf will officially get the party started. That’s when he and other Barton officials figuratively throw the switch on the hospital’s new computer system – enacting Phase I of a $3 million systems upgrade that has been in the works since 1997.

If all goes well, that date will serve to certify that Barton is officially Y2K compliant. As the Director of Information Services at Barton, Grussendorf has been laboring toward that end for nearly two years, and he is confident that the hospital will meet the May 1 deadline (which was imposed by Barton CEO Bill Gordon).

“Our goal is to replace all major systems by May 1,” said Grussendorf, who was hired to tackle the prodigious task late in 1996. “Part of my charge was to replace the hospital’s computer system, which they were scheduled to do anyway. As it turns out, I’m spending about 50 percent of my time on Y2K issues. It’s a large task.”

The health care industry has been under fire lately for taking a slow hand in dealing with Y2K preparedness issues. Simply put, the Y2K computer bug is a potential problem in any program that stores the year portion of a date in two storage positions rather than four. The problem arises when a program interprets 01/01/00 as January 1, 1900 instead of January 1, 2000.

Such a snafu could send hospital management systems spinning into turmoil. Virtually all hospital records and bookkeeping are done on computer, and a facility such as Barton would simply cease to function if those computers broke down.

Systems applications which would be impacted by a Y2K computer meltdown include patient accounting, registration and admitting, payroll/accounts payable, materials management, pharmacy control, medical information systems, surgery scheduling systems and lab information.

These systems all ensure that the hospital runs smoothly – that patients go where they are supposed to go and see who they are supposed to see, and that supplies are ordered and acquired in a timely fashion. The smallest oversight – such as running out of bandages or certain drugs – can cause big problems.

“I guess you could say that the most critical systems of all are the billing systems,” said Grussendorf. “If a hospital doesn’t have money coming in, it ceases to function. But they’re all important.”

All medical equipment that may be affected by Y2K is also being tested and replaced – but that task is not as large. There are few date-sensitive systems in an actual hospital room. Barton’s Biomedical Department is focusing mainly on testing radiology (x-ray) and laboratory systems.

Unlike larger hospitals in major metropolitan areas, Barton has no security or access upgrades to worry about (such as automatic door controls or card-key systems).

But Barton is preparing for potential Y2K problems in another area which centers outside of its facility.

What if the year 2000 arrives, and the lights go out all over town?

“We have an emergency preparedness system that is mandated by the state,” said Barton Memorial Director of Risk and Quality Management Kathryn Biasotti. “Our backup generator can run for a long period of time, and we already have extra water, food and other supplies built in to the system. Whatever happens out there on New Year’s Eve, we feel we are ready for it.”

Indeed, Barton’s backup power system, which runs on diesel fuel, could run for months if needed. A backup heating system runs on propane, with a large storage tank on the premises.

Barton has also scheduled extra personnel to be on hand on New Year’s Eve, in case things get crazy on Dec. 31 and there is an influx of patients.

But Barton has less control over its many outside vendors, such as insurance companies that reimburse the hospital for services, and companies which supply goods and utilities.

“We have requested written assurance from our many vendors that they will have tested their systems and will be compliant before the end of 1999,” Grussendorf said. “A significant majority of these companies have responded favorably.

“Of course, saying you will be compliant and actually doing it could be two different things,” he said. “So we have formed a task force to stay on top of vendor issues. We’re meeting about twice a month right now, but that will increase as the year 2000 draws closer.”

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