By Ron VandenBoom
Concerns over Northern Montana Hospital's ability to meet and defeat the dreaded Y2K "millennium bug" spurred authorities at the local health care facility to prepare for the threat early and systematically.
John Rosenbaum, chief of professional services and imaging manager at the hospital, has headed a team of hospital staff recruited from various departments throughout the facility since the spring of 1998. The team's goal was to locate potential areas at risk and upgrade, replace, or otherwise neutralize any potential hazard.
"Basically, we've met our goals and systematically gone through everything," Rosenbaum said.
The term Y2K "millennium bug" stems from a fault in the design of older computers and computer operating systems that used only two digits to indicate the year on the computer's calendar. The fear is that when the internal calendars on unprepared computers change from the year 1999 to the year 2000 on Dec. 31, the computers will shut down or malfunction.
Andrea Christenot, PC Analyst and Y2K coordinator at NMH, said they have managed to go through all of the equipment, both computer and medical, to insure they're not going to have any drastic problems.
"We have gone about this with a plan," she said. "And it included a complete inventory of all medical equipment and all computers as well as all operating systems of the hospital."
Christenot said all vendors that have supplied equipment to the hospital have also been contacted and verified that their equipment is compliant.
"We've gone through and upgraded anything that could be upgraded and replaced those things that were critical but were obsolete," she said.
Christenot also contacted companies who manufacture equipment that might have date sensitive chips and learned what their testing procedures were. "And then we used those same procedures to test the items ourselves," she said.
Efforts to insure NMH was Y2K compliant also raised the issue of how prepared the facility was for any disaster or emergency that might strike the Havre area.
"We've approached this as preparation for an emergency and disaster contingencies of any sort," Rosenbaum said, adding that disaster situations can arise any time and that Y2K simply provided impetus for moving forward on this issue with a firm deadline.
"It's been a good thing for us in that we really needed to look harder at what our disaster contingency plans were," he said.
Disaster planning also includes Jay Burrington, chief engineer at NMH and the man in charge of keeping heat, electricity, and other essential services running during a community disaster.
"We go through and test our secondary fuel on our boilers, we run our generator on a monthly basis, we go through all of these exercises all year long, every year," Burrington said. "Y2K is just another bump in the road. We're ready for most disasters no matter what they brought us."
Burrington said that, during a disaster situation, NMH could operate on emergency power for 48 hours on fuel already stored at the hospital and indefinitely as long as diesel fuel could be delivered to replenish supplies. But it would be on emergency power.
"You got to look at emergency power as emergency power," he said. "It's only powering up the essential things to keep the core of the hospital running."
Essential services means critical lights, emergency room functions, operating room functions, and egress from the hospital. Portable X-ray machines would be used and non-essential services would be closed.
Rosenbaum feels confident his team has done a good job and that NMH is ready to meet not only Y2K, but any other disaster that might befall our area, but also noting that it has not been accomplished without cost.
"I don't have a figure, but health care facilities have been fairly hard hit financially by (Y2K)," he said.
Rosenbaum, Burrington and Christenot will joins five or six others on site at the hospital on New Years Eve just to handle any problems that may crop up due to Y2K, but all three said they are sure all they will do is sit around for a few hours and go home with a smile on their faces.
"People do need to be reassured that facilities like ours ... have not been ignoring this issue, that we've been hard at work for well over a year and a half on just this one issue, this one deadline," Rosenbaum said.