Gearing Up for Y2K

August 1, 1999
Volume 16, Issue 8

Planning for the turn of the century is a little bit like defensive driving: You have to watch out for the other guy and pay close attention to what you're doing.

Planning for the turn of the century is a little bit like defensive driving: You have to watch out for the other guy and pay close attention to what you're doing.

While health care providers have been concentrating on making sure that their own systems will continue to work after Dec. 31, they may have overlooked crucial interfaces with other essential parts of the infrastructure.

Not all Year 2000 projects are on the same schedule. John A. Koskinen, chair of the President's Council on the Year 2000, has warned that "our greatest domestic risks for Year 2000-related failures are at the local level."

Other organizations in the community that may experience problems to one degree or another on Jan. 1 include:

  • Electric service providers. Utility companies report that their systems have been tested and found to be Y2K compliant. But a single glitch along a multistate grid could plunge communities into darkness for hours. Health care facilities should be sure that backup generators are working and fully fueled well in advance of Dec. 31.
  • Water companies. Pumps, wells and canals depend on automated equipment. A computer failure could mean that fresh water is in short supply for as much as two or three days.
  • Gas and home heating oil providers. A breakdown in pipelines or pumping stations could mean that people might face freezing temperatures in the middle of winter. Hospitals could see a higher incidence of emergency visits from frostbite and exposure, as well as the possibility of burn injuries as inexperienced homeowners and apartment dwellers try to build fires in their fireplaces.
  • Financial institutions. Banks and insurance companies are computer heavy. In June, the government's General Accounting Office said state insurance regulators have not been diligent enough in monitoring carriers' progress on Y2K remediation. If financial institutions can't handle the new millennium, health care providers may find themselves strapped for cash in the first month of the new year.

Dionne Dougall, the American Hospital Association's spokesperson on Y2K-related issues, says the AHA is encouraging providers to get involved with community-based emergency planning groups. "We are encouraging our members to be talking with other leaders in the community, utilities, food suppliers, local emergency preparedness groups, mayors and so on," she said-RAS