Mercy emerges from the smoke

MERCY IT published in ‘Hospital&healthcare’, February 2005

Mercy emerges from the smoke

The fire at Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital for Women on Christmas morning 2004 not only caused the evacuation of maternity and neonatal patients and staff to other metropolitan hospitals, it totally disrupted Mercy Health & Aged Care’s newly upgraded IT system. Sue Cartledge reports.

The ICT upgrade had been necessary because providing remote access to computer applications to 1,000-plus users in 10 locations ranging from metropolitan Melbourne to rural Victoria via traditional methods had proved to be problematic and expensive. Remote access over dialup was slow, especially in some regional areas, and users incurred large long-distance telephone and download charges dialling into the network to access patient records, medical information, online telephone directories and clinical websites.

A Citrix access solution was implemented, allowing Mercy employees to securely and remotely access patient medical records in the hospital’s IBA Patient Management System, the company’s intranet, the Microsoft Office suite, Access databases containing information for the pain management and psychiatric departments, shared documents, online telephone directories, and a Victorian Department of Human Services portal giving online access to medical journals over the Internet. Using MetaFrame Presentation Server and MetaFrame Secure Access Manager, Mercy’s 22 IT staff under Infrastructure Services Manager

ICT, Simon Richardson were able to centrally manage the network.

All this was threatened by the fire which caused immediate loss of a reliable power source, failure of the UPS and failure of the paging system. Failure of power also meant that medical gases, water and monitoring equipment were all inoperable, as was the HVAC system, so although there was no actual danger from the fire to patients and staff, other than some smoke inhalation, the hospital was basically unable to function as a hospital, and so the decision was made to evacuate 250 maternity and neonatal patients and relocate 80 staff to other metropolitan hospitals.

Within three hours of relocating patients and staff, all mission-critical applications were deployed using Citrix to enable continuity of care. Specific applications deployed were:

  • SPI: monitors statistics of premature babies
  • Telnet: a character based app that looks after patient management, finance, supply etc.

As staff were now scattered around Melbourne’s major hospitals, Mercy’s ITC department needed to organise staff access to email and computer based medical systems. Phones at Mercy Hospital needed to be redirected, and call centres to be set up to deal with the stream of enquiries after the fire.

During the dismantling of the fire-damaged switchboard and the installation of the new one (see story on pxx), there were ongoing challenges for ICT staff. The power was shut down at regular intervals, as cables and switches were installed, causing problems accessing data housed on site and for the other sites that routed through the central hospital site. Not only the relocated staff but staff in the organisation’s nine other locations, all difficulties getting regular and reliable access to patient management systems/results, email, clinical applications and printing.

In an amazingly short time of 10 days, the new switchboard and cabling was installed and all the hospital’s vital services were restored and recommissioned. With staff returning to their mother hospital, the last steps the ICT department needed to take was to roll back voice related changes. During those 10 days, 130 babies were born in their various temporary locations, as Mercy Health & Aged Care continued to provide excellence in care despite the challenges and frustrations caused by the fire.

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