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Barnes Jewish from the air

An aerial view of Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex in the Central West End on March 11, 2011. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

BJC HealthCare, the area’s largest hospital provider, experienced a computer outage lasting 20 hours that temporarily disrupted its operations systemwide.

The loss of computer services started at 3 p.m. Tuesday and ended about 11 a.m. Wednesday.

The outage blocked access to a slew of functions, including email, electronic medical records, registration and scheduling systems, at all of BJC’s 13 hospitals, Rich Liekweg, the hospital system’s executive vice president, told the Post-Dispatch.

“Any time you have a system go down for any extended period of time it’s a concerning event,” Liekwig said. “But that’s also why we have contingency plans.”

The outage caused the health system to chart patient information and register patients using pen and paper.

Transferring patients from the emergency department into a hospital bed was a problem because the bed tracking system was also down.

The health system also tried to stem bringing in new patients transferred from other hospitals last night because of delays and access to medical records.

“We weren’t taking as many transfer patients in last night as we might have in other evenings,” Liekweg said of the outage.

“I did reach out this morning to the CEOs of SSM and Mercy just to let them know that they may be getting more requests from us to transfer, or we may not be able to accept as many transfers,” he said.

BJC has yet to identify the root cause of the problem, Liekweg said. He said BJC planned to shift to a new clinical software program in 2017 but had yet to start that process.

Patient and employee data were not compromised during the incident, he added.

“We didn’t see anything in our routine tracking that indicates that data has left our firewall,” Liekweg said.

The BJC executive wouldn’t speculate on whether the outage was part of a hack.

“We continue to do our root cause analysis,” Liekweg said.

BJC is working with vendors on site to fix the “information technology issues,” according to spokeswoman Kim Kitson.

Julie Adler-Milstein, assistant professor of information at the University of Michigan, said these events were not rare.

“It’s not a regular occurrence, but it happens often enough that every place has a whole back up procedure,” she said.

Information technology systems at hospitals are very complex and very sensitive to change, Adler-Milstein said.

“One little change can have these cascading effects,” she said.

BJC operates 13 hospitals throughout Southern Illinois and Missouri including the Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis.

Samantha Liss • 314-340-8017

@samanthann on Twitter

sliss@post-dispatch.com