One agency’s Y2K journey

HFHS uses a map to find its way

Hospital-affiliated home health agencies are dealing with their concerns about the millennium bug in different ways, but a good example of how to confront the issue comes from Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Its home care division is a long way down the path of a year 2000 (Y2K) remediation plan.

Start with a road map, suggests, Greg Solecki, vice president of home health care for Henry Ford Health System Home Health. He developed a chart that started at the end, where he wants to be on Jan. 1, 2000, and worked backward to see what had to be done by when.

The first step was to ask his operational managers to inventory anything they thought might have exposures. He added those elements to a list the health system had provided. The managers then had to determine what of that listed equipment was compliant and what wasn’t. "That inventory took months," says Solecki. "I really had to push people to provide it."

Software and hardware were diagnosed using off-the-shelf programs (available for as little as $50) that run on your computer system to determine whether you have a Y2K-compliant program. Other machinery and equipment was more difficult to diagnose, requiring letters and calls to vendors and manufacturers.

By the middle of this year, Solecki needed a list of what was compliant and what wasn’t so that any remediation or purchases could be included in the 1999 capital budget. That list had to be prioritized for importance, he says. "One thing you have to do is determine if you want to be conservative or liberal in how your prioritize your needs," advises Solecki. "The fax machine not having the right date may seem small, but to us, a fax of a physician order without a date is a big deal. We need that date to show compliance." But the phone system not having correct dates on the voice mail isn’t as critical, he adds. "You just have to change your greeting to ask for the date and time the person called."

The next step is the hardest, says Solecki. "We have to wait to see whether our vendors are compliant." Letters have been sent out to them, and many have assured Henry Ford verbally that Y2K is not an issue for the product or service they supply. "Now we have to wait for written confirmation. But that doesn’t mean we’ll get it in our time frame. If we don’t, do we get a new system? That’s the hard part. We have to balance the scrapping and moving forward costs — in money and time. But the window is closing. If we don’t get into it, we’re already probably too late."

As he waits, Solecki is developing contingency plans for Henry Ford Home Health. "We assume we will go down on Jan. 1, 2000, and figure out how we will work," he says. Some of the plans are easy: If the fax machine doesn’t put a date on top of the fax, a manual date stamp can be used. Software will be backed up before midnight on Dec. 31, 1999.

But third-party issues are harder to prepare for. "We are prepared for a slowdown in cash flow," says Solecki. "We work accounts receivable aggressively to make sure we have enough float. But we’re lucky; we’re a big health system. If I were freestanding, I would be petrified."

With 24,000 patient admissions in 1998, Henry Ford has plenty to worry about, and Solecki has tried to deal with those issues in a logical manner. His biggest concern is the issue he has yet to solve. That issue, Solecki says, is that everyone seems to believe someone else will deal with the Y2K problem. "There is just an assumption that someone else will take care of this problem. The operations folks think the information systems [IS] department will do it all. I am trying to stress operational accountability. We have an IS department to assist you with Y2K compliance, but ultimately, it is the operational leadership that is accountable and responsible for this."