By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The work continues to restore systems and services at Chatham-Kent Health Alliance and other hospitals in the region following a devastating ransomware attack that compromised the privacy data of both employees and patients.
At a special media conference Friday, the heads of the five hospitals affected by the breach provided an update detailing what’s being done to remedy the problem and get services back on track.
All of the hospitals including CKHA, Bluewater Health, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, Windsor Regional Hospital and Erie Shores Healthcare, share services with TransForm Shared Service Organization.
At CKHA, where the database of 1,446 employees as of Feb. 22, 2021 was stolen – including social insurance numbers – those affected have been offered two years of free credit monitoring. However, CKHA president and CEO Lori Marshall said no banking information was stolen.
Affected staff will be notified over the next two weeks, she said, with the hospital reaching out to individuals that are no longer employed.
Marshall said she’s “extremely proud” of staff pulling together “to continue to provide exceptional care to patients, even during the most challenging time.”
She also thanked the Chatham-Kent community for its patience.
“Please know that we are working diligently to get our systems back up safely and securely,” Marshall said.
According to Marshall, the restorative efforts are regionally co-ordinated and prioritized and then locally executed.
The restoration efforts include a review of each system, Marshall explained, to examine whether a server was impacted, and if it was, to enact a series of steps to ensure data is backed up, restored, scanned, repaired and placed behind a new firewall.
Marshall said when bringing the systems back online, critical care patients will be the first priority. She expects that to be operational by mid-December.
In the first few days after the attack, Marshall said patient appointments were rescheduled, but care has now returned to “much more normal volumes.”
In the interim, Marshall said oncology patients are currently being referred to the London Health Sciences Centre and will be transitioned back to Chatham when systems are restored. Imaging for cancer patients has also been referred to London.
The ransomware attack has limited CKHA’s ability to provide care for stroke patients, Marshall added, so those patients are being transferred to LHSC or Windsor Regional Hospital by ambulance.
“Our patients have always been our first priority and will continue to be,” Marshall said. “The impact of the cyberattack extends far beyond the digital realm. It has not only disrupted our daily lives but has affected our sense of security and trust.”
As for other diagnostic imaging, Marshall said CKHA is relying on its community health-care partners for now.
At Bluewater Health, the data of some 267,000 patients was stolen, dating back to 1992.
“These past few weeks have truly tested us ” said BWH CEO Paula Reaume Zimmer. “The fact that this attack followed on the heels of a hard-fought pandemic is sickening. We want to acknowledge how unsettling it must be for our patients to have their personal health information comprised. I sincerely apologize for the concern this has raised.”
Reaume Zimmer said Bluewater Health has begun the process of notifying the patients whose private information is comprised.
She said the data breach has led to a backlog of some procedures at the hospital.
The investigation is ongoing. The OPP, FBI, Interpol, local police and all relevant government regulators are involved in the probe.