May 26, 2024

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Ascension Wisconsin hospitals were hit by a cyberattack, disrupting care

Ascension Wisconsin hospitals were hit by a cyberattack, disrupting care

On Wednesday, Ascension hospitals in Wisconsin and across the United States were hit by a cyberattack that interfered with their computer network and led to major disruptions in patient care that continued through Thursday.

The cyberattack led to canceled appointments, delayed care and confusion at Ascension hospitals and health care facilities in Wisconsin and across the country.

Healthcare workers at Ascension Wisconsin sites reported being unable to access Epic, the critical system for storing patients’ medical information and managing their care. This outage means that doctors and nurses cannot see patients’ medical histories or other patient information, cannot communicate as they used to across hospital departments and have little ability to see patients’ previous labs or test results. They must use paper records to track a patient’s condition, order procedures and write prescriptions, according to health care workers.

Some patients were reportedly unable to use MyChart, an online platform for patients to schedule appointments, check lab results and speak with their doctor.

“This is a crisis situation,” said Tracy Schwerdtfeger, a registered nurse at Ascension St. Francis Hospital on Milwaukee’s south side and a member of the union that represents health care workers there. “It actually seems to paralyze a lot of the things we need to do.”

It is unclear when the situation can be resolved.

The company said it is working to solve the problem

In an email obtained by the Journal Sentinel along with a message from Ascension CEO Joseph Impicciche to health care workers, he said Ascension is working “hard to resolve issues as quickly as possible.”

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“It is unclear how long it will take to get all systems back on track,” Impicciche’s letter said.

The email also directed health care workers to “prepare and act as if this downtime will continue for the foreseeable future.”

Ascension Wisconsin did not immediately respond to questions about whether the attack was a ransomware attack.

In a statement published on its websiteAscension said it detected “unusual activity on select technology network systems” on Wednesday, which was later determined to be a “cybersecurity event.”

The statement stated that Ascension responded immediately, opened an investigation, and began efforts to correct the situation. The statement indicated ongoing outages to some systems as a result of the situation, but did not provide details.

“Our care teams have been trained in these types of disorders and have initiated measures to ensure that patient care continues to be delivered safely and with as little impact as possible,” the statement said. “There has been a disruption to clinical operations, and we are continuing to evaluate the impact and duration of the disruption.”

Disruption leads to a shift in patient care

Connie Smith, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, said the disruptions mean it will take longer for patients to get care, but health care workers are doing their best to care for patients and find alternative solutions. Represents health care workers at Ascension St. Francis on the south side of Milwaukee.

“Imaging results take hours, which can have a very negative impact especially if it’s very serious,” said Schwerdtfeger, a nurse practitioner at St. Francis Hospital.

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The shutdown of the Epic system also negatively impacted health care workers’ ability to monitor patients’ vital signs in the emergency department, visit doctors and locate a doctor or specialist for a consultation, Schwerdtfeger said.

One doctor who works at Ascension, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, advised patients who were seriously ill or had chronic illnesses that required detailed follow-up to avoid Ascension sites until the crisis passed.

Under this situation, when a patient comes to an Ascension hospital or office for an appointment or visit, doctors are “flying blind,” the doctor said.

“You don’t have a backstory on the person. You don’t know what the chief complaint is. You don’t know the patient’s history,” the doctor said. “You’re completely blind.”

Ascension is working with Mandiant, a cybersecurity consulting firm, to investigate and help determine what, if any, information was compromised in the cyberattack.

Earlier this year, UnitedHealth, the largest U.S. health insurer, reported a ransomware attack on its technology unit — one of the worst hacks to hit U.S. healthcare — that caused widespread disruptions in payments. For doctors and health facilities.

A Catholic health system, Ascension includes 140 hospitals and other care facilities in 19 states and the District of Columbia. It reported in May that it had 134,000 employees.

In Wisconsin, the health system includes 17 hospitals in southeastern Wisconsin and the Fox Valley, as well as numerous physician offices and other health care sites.

The Detroit Free Press and Reuters contributed to this story.