Materials managers may be home for Christmas, as the holiday song goes, but New Year's, many say, will be another story.
There is some good news. Supply rooms will not be bursting with extra drugs, devices and other medical supplies. Serious hoarding simply has not materialized, despite widespread worries early this year that a millennial combination of computer snafus and anxiety bordering on paranoia could break the delicate daisy chain of suppliers to hospitals.
Some materials managers, to be sure, have laid in enough goods to last an extra week or two. And perhaps a few have headed for the hills to stash enough pills, catheters and IV solutions to last months.
But doomsday hoarding, thankfully, does not seem to have become a reality. Calmer heads and a hard look at the considerable cost of materials bloat seem to have scotched stockpiling before it started.
There is some bad news, however. Materials managers, like many other hospital employees, will be working overtime during the holidays just in case something goes wrong.
"I'll be here, unfortunately," says Henry Tomasuolo, vice president of materials management at Sisters of Charity Healthcare System, Staten Island, N.Y. "It's not how I dreamed about spending the millennium." He will have company, though. Two other materials employees will be on duty at the two-hospital system's main campus, and two others will be at satellite locations. They'll be ready with emergency equipment purchased in case of trouble, including flashlights, extra batteries and walkie-talkies.
Tomasuolo prepared about two weeks' extra stock of standard medical supplies, bringing inventories up to about four weeks. Surgical supplies got bumped up a week to last three weeks.
"We've taken the safe rather than the sorry approach," he says. "I think, and I hope, it won't be necessary. I don't think we're going to see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse coming down."
Materials managers at nearby hospitals have similar plans.
"I'll be here," echoes Elliot Allen, resident director of materials management and purchasing at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, N.Y.
Allen isn't worried, though.
Even if there are supply glitches, which he doesn't expect, the fact that New Year's Day falls on a Saturday should ease any pain.
Supply orders are not typically filled on weekends anyway, he explains, so hospitals will have 48 hours to respond to any problems that crop up.
Not that many hospitals are expected to let things get that far.
"There is a mandate for all senior management to be on site New Year's Eve, and we've scheduled staggered shifts to cover the entire weekend," says Walter Fahey, deputy vice president of information services at Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Fahey, who oversees Y2K readiness at the facility, says the hospital has an extra two weeks' supplies on hand. Maimonides also assessed preparedness of vendors that do more than $50,000 in business with the hospital and lined up alternatives to those who couldn't or wouldn't commit to Y2K compliance. Less than 10% of vendors came up short, he says.
As a final safeguard, Fahey says, buyers will be armed with cold hard cash "in case they need to run to the store and buy something." If the world really does go haywire, buying on credit could be a problem, Fahey figures.
Other hospitals are expecting business as usual, carrying the same stock they normally would.
"Hoarding is crazy," declares Michael Bohon, director of materials management at Tucson (Ariz.) Medical Center. He hasn't adjusted his inventory except for two items: a hard-to-get transducer for patient monitors and extra ethylene oxide, a disinfecting gas that has been in somewhat short supply anyway.
Bohon also oversees the hospital's print shop, which will be working during New Year's weekend to resolve any computer failures. Hospital employees are printing hard copies of the computer forms they use, and the print shop will be ready to duplicate them as temporary documents.
Bohon will spend New Year's Eve at home and expects no problems at any hospitals in the area.
"If we were any more ready here in Tucson," he says, "I don't know what we'd do."
Hospitals are the least of the worries for some.
"The New Year's (Eve) itself I'll spend at home with my doors locked," jokes Steven Howard, director of materials management at Lovelace Health System, Albuquerque.
At work, Howard hasn't altered his inventory one iota.
"I've always taken the stance that I'm not going to be part of the problem," he says, referring to the possibility of self-fulfilling supply fears. "If in fact there is a problem, then it's just a matter of time before everyone is swept into it anyway."