Breathe in, breathe out, don’t breathe...the disembodied voice wafted over the sound of ball bearings hitting metal. It was calm and confident. I, on the other hand, was not. In fact I was a little anxious…that’s what comes of being strapped to a gurney with a sensor belt around your waist and contrast dye flowing through your veins while stuffed inside an MRI machine somewhere in the bowels of the Foothills Services Building.
Breathe in, breathe out, don’t breathe…an hour is a long time to spend in an MRI machine. Your thoughts run wild. Would they remember to get me out if there was a fire? Has anyone run amok in here because they were overcome by claustrophobia (MRIophobia?) The contrast dye can cause coma or death in rare cases…am I a rare case?
What I didn’t know then but realize now is that I was a lucky case. I was one of the fortunate Calgarians who underwent a scheduled surgery or procedure before July 11, 2012. One day before to be precise.
On July 11th a transformer exploded on the top floor of the Shaw Communications building (bad) and started a fire (really bad). The Alberta Health Services (AHS) computer and backup computer were in the same building (astonishingly bad). The explosion and fire knocked out the AHS computer and set off the sprinkler system which knocked out the backup computer (like we couldn’t see that one coming). The AHS IT system went down for 36 hours. It’s still not completely functional.
So what’s the impact of this outage? According to Health Minister Fred Horne, it’s no biggie. “What’s important in this case is that no urgent or emergent healthcare services were affected”.*
Think about that for a moment…how does Mr Horne know this to be true?
Mr Horne would have no knowledge of who required urgent or emergent healthcare services and who didn’t unless he reviewed the patient records. These records are housed in the AHS computer. The AHS computer and the AHS backup computerwere rendered useless as a result of the fire and water damage caused by the explosion at the Shaw Communications building. So it would be safe to assume that Mr Horne had no evidence to support his statement other than this: the urgent or emergent cases that came in through emergency were not “affected” (whatever that means) by the outage.
Contrast Mr Horne’s complacent reaction with that of Dr Fernandes. AHS called Dr Fernandes’ office to advise him of urgent medical results for two of his patients. Dr Fernandes returned the AHS call an hour later, asking for the patients’ names, but by then the AHS computers had gone down, taking the patients’ identities with them.
Presumably Minister Horne could argue that advice of urgent medical results is not the same as being in need of “urgent health-care services”,however Dr Fernandes was not so cavalier. His practice includes elderly patients, organ transplant recipients and patients on dialysis. Rather than risk the health of two of his patients his office spent hours phoning hundreds of patients to check on their welfare.
Minister Horne’s refusal to accept responsibility for this disaster is shocking. Any enterprise with an inkling of common sense has a business continuity plan to protect itself from IT system failure. And yes, I know that AHS outsourced its IT computer services to IBM (to the tune of $100 million/year I might add)**but this does not absolve AHS from ensuring that the IBM service contract obligates IBM to provide disaster recovery services and real-time backup services. To do anything less for an IT network that is critical to the health and welfare of Albertans is not just poor business practice, it’s irresponsible.
Mr Horne’s position appears to be: it’s OK, nobody died. His facile response is typical of the PC government’s refusal to take accountability for its actions, but it really doesn’t cut it for the 110 patients who’ve had their elective surgeries cancelled and the 298 patients who’ve had their MRIs, CAT scans and other tests cancelled. All of them are back in the wait list queue.
Furthermore, Mr Horne’s response is woefully inadequate for any Albertan who expects an ounce of compassion from the government minister charged with providing adequate healthcare to Albertans.
* Calgary Herald, July 14, 2012
**Calgary Herald June 14, 2012, A9