June 21, 2011, 6:10 AM — Debbie Cancilla, Grady Health System's senior vice president and CIO. A few years ago, one of the largest public hospitals in the U.S. had a big problem and it was hampering the way it was getting work done.
The problem, though, wasn't with the health care staff. The problem was email, which had become a nightmare for the doctors, nurses and administrators at Grady Health System , a 1,000-bed hospital in Atlanta that also runs seven neighborhood clinics, along with an infectious disease clinic.
Most companies or organizations experience occasional email downtime. However, at Grady, email was an ongoing headache for the hospital's users, as well as for Debbie Cancilla, the hospital's senior vice president and CIO.
Cancilla told Computerworld the IT staff was fighting an email outage about once a week.
In 2008, the hospital went through some major changes. Grady went from being a public entity to a private, nonprofit hospital. After making the switch, the hospital received funding that enabled it to update its technology.
2008 was also the year that Cancilla was hired. She and her team assessed the hospital's technology and quickly decided that the network needed to be rebuilt. Fixing the email system, which was running Novell GroupWise, was the top priority.
"The issues with email were in the forefront of everyone's mind," said Cancilla. "The servers weren't stable. The filters weren't working correctly. We had configuration problems ... We had constant down time. This was almost a weekly occurrence. We didn't have the depth or experience for this. And people have an expectation that email is a given and stable and it works. And it just didn't in this environment."
She added that no matter how hard her team members worked, they never felt the problems were corrected appropriately. With just one person dedicated to handling email, it was a problem that never went away.
The email problem was so bad that users at the hospital started expecting the system to crash. It was part of their routine.
"I think users were incredibly frustrated," Cancilla said. "For almost 10 years, this organization had no funding, so they'd learned to live with what they had. It was almost embarrassing from a leadership perspective that people had become satisfied with things not working the way they're supposed to."
Maybe even worse was the financial toll it was taking on the hospital.
Cancilla said on a high-level, the annual cost to manage the hospital's email system was about $150,000. However, if she added in all the costs associated with addressing problems and downtime, that number jumped to $200,000. That meant the cost of handling email problems was a quarter of the hospital's overall email expenditure.