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Sick computers plague county health
June 5, 2000
By Pam Zubeck/The Gazette
Lousy computers and a heavy workload caused the El Paso County Health Department to lose a database containing medical records of 10,000 alcohol and drug treatment patients, officials said.
The information was retrieved. But the glitch underscored the need for better computers to manage files and information. Last week, the county commission approved $500,000 in upgrades for the next three years.
The Health Department has 20 databases to manage - more than any other county department. Yet it had only two computer techs on board, and one quit last year.
"Basically, we didn't have the in-house knowledge we needed in this day and age to manage our information systems," said Dr. Tish Dowe, director of the department. "So things got bad fast, with one person sticking his finger in the dike."
Problems came to a head in early January when cheap PCs and inadequate wiring and servers caused the department to lose the database, said Bill Miller, the county's computer expert.
At one point, staffers scrambled to find drug test results in response to a judge's request. The department often handles testing for people on probation. It took awhile, but the results were found in the paper files.
With help from Miller, the database was recovered.
Miller, the county's chief information officer, blamed the problem on lack of knowledge and bad equipment.
"When you buy cheap products and these oddball parts, that's what happens," he said.
The county worked on the problem for several weeks. At one point, Miller said, a PC started smoking because of an overload. Miller termed the problems "fairly serious" and said they had a "significant" impact on the department's operations.
"If they can't access databases, or their servers go down, the productivity goes down. You can't handle the volume of people if you don't have these electronic devices to do that with," Miller said. "The (waiting) lines get longer, things take longer to get done, you see more inaccuracies."
The Health Department may not be the only trouble spot.
Miller will conduct technical audits of other departments, including the sheriff and clerk and recorder.
"We can't allow these departments to go off and do their own thing," he said, noting all departments are wired into the same system. "If they do something that adversely affects our network, it affects everybody."
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), June 05, 2000