November 5, 2013 - 12:00 AM

Allen County Regional sits dormant
due to malfunctioning phone system


When Ron Baker contacted AT&T months ago for updates regarding fiber-optic phone lines to the new hospital, the response was reassuring — “There is nothing to worry about to this point,” an AT&T representative told him.
Now, nearly one week after Allen County Regional Hospital’s Oct. 29 planned opening, its doors remain closed. There are no functioning phone systems in the new building.
“The question is, are we confident in the information we have to set a new opening date, or do we wait for an honest-to-goodness dial tone,” Baker, hospital CEO, said Monday afternoon. “I don’t want to make the same mistake.”
A series of events have left Allen County’s $30-million hospital paralyzed.
ACRH signed a contract with AT&T in March to complete a “six-month” project, laying down fiber-optic cables for voice and data to the new hospital, located on North Kentucky Street. Baker said the administration was reassured several times the project’s work would be completed on time. Then, when late August rolled around, he began to ask questions.
“It’s one thing to get the line installed,” he said. “It’s another thing to get it working.”
By mid-August, Baker said he was “getting some rumblings” the fiber-optic cables had yet to be laid. By the time the opening grew nearer, AT&T informed Baker the lines may not be ready for the opening on Oct. 29. Baker said he has not been given a specific reason as to why the fiber-optics are not functioning.
Here’s where the story may get complicated.
The hospital’s “plan B” was to install T-1 telephone lines (another high-speed data transfer system) to the new building — a temporary measure to have phones working by the opening. Once AT&T had the lines installed, they realized the cables could not support voice data.
“That’s when we thought, ‘we’ve got a problem,’” Baker said.
Their last resort, a “plan C” seemed to be the most disastrous. Through old connections and “copper already in place” at the old hospital building, Baker said AT&T worked to redirect the old lines to the new building.
“We actually did get some connectivity,” Baker said.
“That night, the phone switches at the old hospital went down,” he said. The hospital went without phone lines for nearly 12 hours. The staff was forced to rely on backup protocol (cell phones and “walkie-talkies”) for the duration of the outage. Administrators brought in an engineer to bring the phone lines back up, which he did.
But, 40 minutes after the engineer left, the phones malfunctioned yet again — the hospital could not make outgoing calls. They reverted back to backup protocol.
The engineers worked to get the phones “back up and running” again, and they remain in functional condition. Workers with the Hospital Corporation of America, Baker and AT&T attributed the outages to older programming systems in place with the original phone system.
Understandably, Baker said the hospital is reluctant to try “plan C” again.
“We’re not touching this switch again,” he said of the old system. “We are not going to risk losing our phone system again.”
Now, administrators are forced to let the new $30 million hospital building sit in the dark — and in silence — until AT&T can have fiber-optic cables functioning.

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