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Of mouse and men.

Providers ease into Year 2000

IN THE END, THE COMPUTER GEEKS WHO created the Y2K problem by representing years using two digits instead of four, redeemed themselves by making it all better. Thanks to their extensive repair efforts, the Year 2000 rollover was virtually glitch-free. And the long term care industry was no exception. Providers and trade associations reported no major problems, and hardly any minor ones.

HCFA said that its payment systems, including those belonging to contractors, were operating normally after January 1. "Contractors have begun processing Medicare claims using the renovated Year 2000 electronic systems," the agency said in a press release, adding that "all states have made initial reports on their Medicaid computer systems, with no problems reported."

"It's all quiet on the Western, Eastern, Northern, and Southern fronts. There have been no reports of any Y2K-related problems," notes Laura Fenwick, a spokesman for the American Health Care Association. Similarly, a press release from the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging called Y2K a "non-event" for providers.

Contemporary's own spot survey paints a picture of an industry prepared to prevent potential problems.

In a press release, Beverly Enterprises noted that it had spent more than $25 million since 1997 to make sure that that its corporate headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas, as well as its 561 nursing homes and 34 assisted living communities were prepared for the transition. Actions included upgrades of each facility's software and hardware to ensure Y2K compliance, visits to its largest-volume vendors, and development of an Intranet Web site for tracking each facility's progress during the contingency planning phase.

Lawrence Deering, chairman and CEO of Tandem Health Care, a nursing home chain based in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, reports "zero incidents." Among other things, Tandem had an outside firm come in and check all of its computers and embedded chips in medical equipment. On New Year's Eve, Tandem had people in every facility do a thorough check of major systems right after midnight and then fax the results to an individual in its corporate office.

Because "a lot of things are outside your control," Deering says Tandem "went through a disaster preparedness routine with all employees. In retrospect, it was a great experience for any kind of disaster, so we're planning to do it annually."

Echoing a view held by many long term care providers, Deering gave a lot of credit to "the government and all the other sources that alerted people to the fact that this was a real problem and not a perceived problem. It took a Herculean effort to fix and a lot of money, and it proves you can get it done."

Mark Durishan, chief financial officer of Extendicare, a Milwaukee-based nursing home chain, also reports an easy transition. "We had someone in each nursing home hooked up to our WAN [wide area network]. Within an hour we knew, region by region, whether and what problems everyone was having and none was reported."

Extendicare also had a contingency plan in case problems arose related to power, telephones, or water supply, Durishan adds.

At the Jewish Home and Hospital in New York City, preparations included having an ambulance outside all night in case there was an emergency and the phone system was down.

Concern about medical equipment seemed to be overstated, says Susan Waltman, senior vice president and general counsel of the Greater New York Hospital Association: "As people did the testing, there were very few pieces that were date-sensitive or whose sensitivity could be a danger to patients."

Waltman, whose Y2K workgroup met every other week for a year, says planning will continue to pay off. "The silver lining is better inventories of our equipment and our own infrastructure, upgraded computer systems, and very well-developed emergency preparation plans."

But if New Year's Day was "apocalypse not," in the words of one headline, the last chapter has yet to be written. Notes Genesis Health Ventures CIO Marc Rubinger, "The fact that something turns over at midnight is one milestone. We still have to go through payroll and billing cycles. There are SEC reportings as well as submitting MDS data. Then there's a question of whether all third-party payors and EDI transactions will work hand-in-glove with us."

Who knew?

Four out of five baby boomers do not know how long term care is paid for according to a survey cited late last year before the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Source: American Health Care Association.
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Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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