Computer glitch insists living people are dead

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2003

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- Believe Cathy Uhl, not the computer, when she insists she's alive.

A computer error at Saint Mary's Mercy Medical Center mistakenly identified her and thousands of others as dead.

''We've had problems with insurance before. But when I got this letter, I said, 'Brad (her husband), you're not going to believe this. According to this, I'm dead,'" said Uhl, an administrative supervisor at The Grand Rapids Press.

Uhl is one of 8,500 people who were told that bills issued between mid-October and Dec. 11 had been coded incorrectly to indicate that the person was dead. The glitch happened during a routine update of Saint Mary's computer files in October. One digit was dropped from a code indicating the patients were ''dead,'' rather than ''discharged to home.''

Cammenga, who also received a letter, said the problem is being corrected and the hospital is contacting affected patients and their insurance providers.

The mistake was discovered by a Saint Mary's employee who was helping a patient with a billing problem. She noticed that the bill said the patient died, but the patient was standing in front of her, said Saint Mary's chief financial officer, Steve Pirog.

''Once we identified the problem, getting it fixed took only a few days,'' Pirog said.



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