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, an important medical records 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 a limited 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 an official for 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.”

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.” It is unclear what type of attack it was and whether ransomware was involved.

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 this 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.”

An earlier version of the boarding statement It urged its business partners to temporarily cut off online connections to its system.

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 Hospital.

Union members at St. Francis worry about their ability to provide quality care if they don’t have the necessary technology. Without access to the records system, some hospital units don’t even know which patients are scheduled to show up for appointments, let alone when, said Gavin Rice, an ultrasound technician at St. Francis Hospital and an administrator at St. Francis Hospital. The union that represents health care workers there.

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Many patients who were scheduled to undergo another exam or imaging at St. Francis on Wednesday had their appointments sent away or canceled because workers could not access doctors’ orders in order to confirm the procedure, Rice said. For patients in the emergency room, they can get imaging, but it’s more complicated, he said.

“Imaging results take hours, which can have a very negative impact especially if it is very serious,” Schwerdtfeger said.

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, she 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.”

Cyber ​​attacks are becoming increasingly common

Cyberattacks have become increasingly common in healthcare, often affecting protected health information along with other data, such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, and addresses.

Earlier this year, Change Healthcare, part of the UnitedHealth group, was hit by a cyberattack — one of the worst hacks to hit U.S. healthcare — that caused widespread disruptions in payments to doctors and health facilities. UnitedHealth ended up paying a $22 million ransom in cryptocurrency, Its CEO told a congressional committee earlier this month.

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

Ascension said in its statement that it will notify any affected individuals if it finds that any sensitive information has been compromised.

A Catholic health system headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, There are about 140 hospitals in Ascension, along with other care facilities, across 19 states and the District of Columbia. The National Health System reported about 134,000 employees In mid-2023.

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.

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