AVH immunizing its systems against millennium bug | AspenTimes.com
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AVH immunizing its systems against millennium bug

Jeremy Heiman

Those unlucky enough to spend next New Year’s Eve in Aspen Valley Hospital can at least be confident that any essential medical equipment they happen to be depending on won’t cease working at midnight.

The hospital’s computers and electronic equipment have been upgraded to be pretty much immune to the so-called millennium bug. But because the hospital is dependent on public utilities, AVH may experience temporary problems with electrical power and communications.

The millennium bug is a computer glitch that may be in evidence on Jan. 1, 2000. Computers may fail to recognize that “00” means 2000, because for two or three decades computer programmers commonly reduced the year notation to two digits (98 for 1998, for example). Most computer experts anticipate that not only computers, but thousands of other devices that contain microchips, will fail to function properly as a result.

Eric Guthmann, management information systems team leader at AVH, assured the hospital’s board of directors Monday that all “mission critical” systems in the hospital, including equipment in the trauma room and the intensive care unit, will remain fully operational at the turn of the century. But he said some services might have to be curtailed because emergency electrical power produced by diesel generators might not be adequate for nonessential diagnostic equipment.

“Certain things like CT or MRI may not be available,” Guthmann said. He said the hospital’s existing emergency generator isn’t able to power all hospital systems, but AVH engineering director Mark Prokop has arranged to rent a 300-kilowatt generator for the occasion. He is also exploring the possibility of procuring another generator just for the power-hungry “CAT” scan and magnetic resonance imaging machines.

Guthmann, who heads a task force preparing the hospital for Year 2000 problems, said the staff must be prepared to ration power and create special schedules, perhaps doing hot water-intensive activities such as laundry in the middle of the night.

Although Pitkin County’s communications department has assured the task force that the county’s emergency system will be operational, and U S West has promised that telephones will work, Guthmann said he is assuming there will be problems. He said the hospital’s two-way radios are set to work on emergency power, and cellular phones may be pressed into service, as well.

All on-call clinical personnel will be asked to report to the hospital on New Year’s Eve, so that if paging systems should fail, medical staff will be available.

For patient transfers to St. Mary’s in Grand Junction and to Denver hospitals, ground transportation will have to suffice if St. Mary’s helicopters are not flying. Elective surgery may have to be canceled, Guthmann said.

The hospital is making plans to stockpile drinking water in case the city’s water delivery system or its chlorination system fails. And, Guthmann said, the hospital will have two weeks’ worth of bottled oxygen on hand.

AVH now has enough diesel fuel on hand to operate its emergency generator for five days, and Prokop is making arrangements to have more available.

The task force is planning to carry out disaster drills in June and July.

Asked whether assurance from outside sources such as U S West could eliminate the need for some preparations, Guthmann said, “We can get all the letters in the world, but we won’t know for sure until midnight.”

AVH attorney Paul Taddune, questioned about the hospital’s potential liability for problems resulting from Y2K failures, said the most important thing for the hospital to do is make a good-faith effort to provide good medical care. “I don’t think you worry so much about liability,” Taddune said. “I think you do the best job you can.”


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