Following a year of incredible stress and uncertainty due to the pandemic, healthcare workers at UF Health are facing tremendous challenges yet again.
For the past two weeks, medical professionals at UF Health Leesburg Hospital and UF Health The Villages Hospital have reportedly had to rely on “old school tactics” to deliver modern healthcare following a cyber-attack at the end of May.
Multiple sources are reporting healthcare workers are using pen and paper and phone calls to keep and share patient records as the hospitals work feverishly to repair the damage caused by the cyber-attack. Hospital officials say they are doing all they can to continue to provide high quality care to patients caught in this situation.
According to a report in healthsecurity.com, the hospitals’ computer systems began demonstrating unusual activity early on May 31. The IT staff quickly shut down multiple systems to prevent further impact and protect patient information.
The Villages-News said the attack was suspected to be caused by ransomware. They reported, “The attackers are reportedly demanding a $5 million ransom, although UF Health has not confirmed that number and remains tight lipped on the situation.”
The UF Health spokesman Frank Faust did not confirm that what he called a “cybersecurity event” was a ransomware attack or if there is a demand for payment.
He also did not explain exactly how healthcare workers were responding to the event other than generally.
In a written statement he said, “The dedicated staff at UF Health Central Florida … have worked expeditiously to provide high-quality patient care after the organization experienced a cybersecurity event on May 31.
“Our information technology team is continuing to work around the clock with outside consultants and in concert with IT experts on our Gainesville and Jacksonville campuses to ensure that all computer systems are safely restored prior to bringing them back online. In the meantime, a number of backup and downtime procedures have been implemented, enabling our staff to provide safe, comprehensive inpatient and outpatient care to hundreds of patients since June 1.”
However, healthsecurity.com reported, “To protect its systems, access has been suspended to system platforms, including those between all UF Health hospitals and the University of Florida campus. Clinicians are documenting all patient care via pen and paper.”
Local NBC affiliate WESH reported that several employees said the data breach is negatively impacting patient care. Two employees reportedly said that without access to patient computer files, healthcare workers at the two affected hospitals did not know what drugs to give, and what allergies to avoid.
They reported that because The Villages and Leesburg campuses are on different and older computer systems, hospitals have to call pharmacies to get patient prescription histories. There were also, reportedly, long delays in getting lab reports.
The Villages-News reported some staffers inside the hospitals described the situation as returning to the “stone age.” However, medical staff have reportedly pushed on and continue to deliver the best possible medical care. Some have referred to patient charting as “old school.”
Faust did not give an exact date he expects operations to return to normal.
He said, “Cybersecurity events like these take time to fully resolve. Significant progress is being made on that front. We remain committed to delivering on our promise to the community to meet their health care needs and will resume normal operations as quickly as possible.”
The UF Health attack and network outage is one of at least four health system ransomware-related outages and among a host of other attacks against critical infrastructure attacks in the last month.
“The cost of cybercrime,” according to the Center for Internet Security, “is often calculated in terms of financial loss, inconvenience, or reputational damage. But when it comes to health and hospital systems, the harm caused by a cyber-attack can be far worse. Ransomware-encrypted systems can delay the delivery of life-saving treatment. Data breaches can expose the personal data of vulnerable patients. Entire health systems have had their systems shut down due to cyber-attacks, with an increased risk to human life.”