WASHINGTON (AP) — Computer systems across a major hospital chain with facilities across the nation were down Monday due to what the company termed an unspecified technology “security issue.” Doctors and nurses had to rely on paper.
Universal Health Services Inc., which operates more than 250 hospitals and other clinical facilities in the U.S., said in a short statement posted to its website Monday that its network was offline and doctors and nurses were resorting to “back-up processes” including paper records.
In Northern California, Universal Health operates Fremont Hospital, in Fremont, as well as Sierra Vista Hospital and Heritage Oaks Hospital, in Sacramento.
The Fortune 500 company, with 90,000 employees, said “patient care continues to be delivered safely and effectively” and no patient or employee data appeared to have been “accessed, copied or misused.”
The company also has hospitals in the United Kingdom, but its operations in that country were not affected, a spokeswoman said Monday night.
UHS provided no details about the incident, but people posting to an online Reddit forum who identified themselves as employees said the chain’s network was hit by ransomware overnight Sunday. The posts echoed the alarm of a clinician at a UHS facility in Washington, D.C., who described a mad scramble, including anxiety over determining which patients might be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
John Riggi, senior cybersecurity adviser to the American Hospital Association, called it a “suspected ransomware attack,” adding that criminals have been increasingly targeting the networks of health care institutions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ransomware is a growing scourge in which hackers infect networks with malicious code that scrambles data and then demand payment to restore services.
Increasingly, ransomware purveyors are downloading data from networks they infiltrate before encrypting targeted servers, using it for extortion. Earlier this month, the first known fatality related to ransomware occurred in Duesseldorf, Germany, after an attack caused IT systems to fail and a critically ill patient needing urgent admission died after she had to be taken to another city for treatment.
UHS itself may not be a household name, but its hospitals are part of communities from Washington, D.C., to Fremont, California, and Orlando, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska. Some of its facilities provide care for people coping with psychiatric conditions and substance abuse problems.
The company, based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, did not immediately respond to emails seeking additional details, such as whether patients had to be diverted to other hospitals.
The Washington clinician described a high-anxiety scramble to handle the loss of computers and some phones starting Sunday. The person, involved in direct patient care, was not authorized to speak publicly and described the chaotic situation on condition of anonymity.
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