Hospital Sets July Dates For Cleaning Up Loose Y2k Ends

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Payson Regional Medical Center is undergoing treatment for the millennium bug -- a programming problem that will make outdated computer systems go haywire in the year 2000 -- but officials say a cure is close at hand.

The hospital has hired Modern Biomedical Services, a biomedical engineering firm, to test its clinical equipment, which includes ultrasound machines, lab analyzers, CT scanning machines and other medical devices, to make sure they'll continue working in the year 2000.

The firm has identified all the equipment that can be upgraded to meet Y2K standards and the upgrades are being installed, PRMC Assistant Chief Executive Officer Missy Spencer said. Any non-compliant equipment that can't be upgraded, such as the hospital's ultrasound machine, will be replaced.

The millennium bug, also known as the Y2K bug, is a programming error that plagues older software, computers and embedded computer chips that depend on the last two digits of the date to tell them what year it is. When the electronic calendars in these outdated systems change to Jan. 1, 2000, computer experts think the machines will become confused and stop working properly.

The hospital's information system and the mid-range computer that supports it have already been upgraded to overcome this problem.

"Personal computers are another source of concern," Spencer said. "A team of specialists from Community Health Systems will visit our hospital from July 26 through July 30 to upgrade or replace the PCs in the hospital that are not Y2K compliant."

Any computer equipment that can't be upgraded will be discarded to avoid confusion after the first of the year, she said.

The hospital's phone system, which was terminally afflicted by the Y2K bug, has been replaced, and its emergency radio and pager systems have both been given clean bills of health.

Officials also hired a consulting firm to evaluate the hospital's security and environmental-control systems such as its security alarms, CO2 alarms and heating and air conditioning systems.

"All systems are compliant with the exception of the energy management system, which controls heating and cooling," Spencer said. "The hardware and software upgrade for this system will be completed by July 15."

Although officials said they're doing everything they can to make sure the hospital makes a smooth transition into the millennium, utility and vendor failures could affect hospital operations.

Officials for the companies and organizations that control local gas, electric, water, sewer and phone utilities said last month, however, that their systems had already been brought up to Y2K standards or would be Y2K ready well before the first of the year.

The hospital also depends on a variety of commercial medical vendors for supplies and lab services, and hospital officials are keeping a close watch on their Y2K-compliance efforts.

"Healthcare organizations cannot function effectively without reliable support from hundreds of suppliers of goods and services, all of which are vulnerable to Y2K failures of their own," Spencer said. "Problems our suppliers may experience may make it difficult, slow or impossible to take orders, manage inventory, make deliveries, etc.

"Because of this, CHS is contacting its major suppliers and vendors to ensure that they maintain a fully Y2K-compliant business environment so that our access to supplies and services remains uninterrupted."

Backup systems in place
But even if things go wrong Jan. 1, the hospital will be prepared to take care of the sick and the injured, Spencer said.

"All hospitals are required to maintain emergency plans in case of disaster or utility failures," Spencer said. "We currently maintain backup systems for power, water and communication, among others.

"Should electrical power fail, our two diesel-operated generators will automatically begin operating. The tanks store enough fuel for several days and additional fuel will be on hand.

"We will also have a propane storage tank as well as a water tanker on hand along with bottled water in case of a water or propane delivery system failure. We currently maintain cellular phones and two-way radios in the event of a communications system failure, as well as a two-week supply of non-perishable food products."

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