Cyber attack continues to raise havoc with medical systems

CommonSpirit Health confirmed Oct. 12 that its nationwide outage of electronic health records was the result of a ransomware attack.

That was the first public statement made by the company during the nine days of problems at over 100 medical centers in 21 states. They include Silverdale’s St. Michael Medical Center and Gig Harbor’s St. Anthony Hospital, both providers of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.

“Over the course of this past week, we have been managing a response to a cyberattack that has impacted some of our facilities,” CHI says in its statement.

St. Michael started experiencing problems Oct. 3 when it could not access the medical history of patients on its computer systems. It also caused issues with viewing x-ray and MRI results, among other complications. MyChart was also not available to patients who wanted to look at their own medical records.

The outage has led to mass cancellations of appointments and delays in critical medical procedures in Kitsap County. Without access to computer records, St. Anthony and other hospitals began using physical paper records and prescription bottles in an attempt to continue service to customers.

St. Michael’s outage, combined with staffing shortages, led to members of Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue being sent to assist with work in the emergency room Oct. 8.

The issue was first described as an “IT security issue” by VMFH. CHI did not respond to a request for comment in the days following the initial blackout.

Now with the attack confirmed, CHI offered an explanation for the abrupt lockdown of some online systems. “..upon discovering the ransomware attack, we took immediate steps to protect our systems, contain the incident, begin an investigation, and ensure continuity of care.”

CHI says: “Patient care remains our utmost priority, and we apologize for any inconvenience this matter has created. We are providing relevant updates on the ongoing situation to our patients, employees and caregivers.”

That statement, paired with assurance from CHI and VMFH that Virginia Mason regional medical centers received minimal to no impact, has upset many patients.

“Their statement doesn’t even scratch the surface of the problems that patients, staff and affiliates are facing,” Katrina Collings of Poulsbo said. “We need the Department of Health and Human Services to step in here.”

Others agree. Port Orchard resident River Collins said, “Funeral directors are also suffering from this because doctors cannot go into EDRS and confirm causes of death.”

CHI did not comment on whether or not medical records of patients had been compromised or when the outage could end.

Kitsap News Group newspapers could not get information on their weekly COVID-19 update because of the outage.