In This Catholic Hospital System, ‘Unusual Activity’

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A cyberattack on the Ascension health system operating in 19 states across the US forced some of its 140 hospitals to divert ambulances, caused patients to postpone medical tests, and blocked online access to patient records. An Ascension spokesperson said it detected “unusual activity” Wednesday on its computer network systems. Officials refused to say whether the nonprofit Catholic health system, based in St. Louis, was the victim of a ransomware attack or whether it had paid a ransom, and it didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking updates. But the attack had the hallmarks of ransomware, and Ascension said it had called in Mandiant, the Google cybersecurity unit that’s a leading responder to such attacks, per the AP.

Ascension said that both its electronic records system and the MyChart system that gives patients access to their records and allows them to communicate with their doctors were offline. “We have determined this is a cybersecurity incident,” the national Ascension spokesperson’s statement said. “Our investigation and restoration work will take time to complete, and we do not have a timeline for completion.” The Ascension rep said ambulances had been diverted from “several” hospitals, without naming them. In Wichita, Kansas, local news reports said the local emergency medical services started diverting all ambulance calls from its hospitals there Wednesday, though the health system’s spokesperson there said Friday that the full diversion of ambulances ended Thursday afternoon.

The EMS service for Pensacola, Florida, also diverted patients from the Ascension hospital there to other hospitals, its spokesperson told the Pensacola News Journal. And WTMJ in Milwaukee reported that Ascension patients in the area said they were missing CT scans and mammograms and couldn’t refill prescriptions. Ascension said its system expected to use “downtime” procedures “for some time” and advised patients to bring notes on their symptoms and a list of prescription numbers or prescription bottles with them to appointments. “We are working around the clock with internal and external advisors to investigate, contain, and restore our systems,” the Ascension spokesperson noted. More here.

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