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UVM Health Network Suffers Cyber Attack, Loses Access To Scheduling, Patient Info

A sign in front of UVM Medical Center in Burlington.
Toby Talbot
/
Associated Press
UVM Health Network has been the victim of a cyber attack that, according to national reports, was carried out by Russian hackers.

Updated 10/30/2020 9:05 a.m.

The UVM Health Network, which runs six hospitals in Vermont and New York State, was the victim of a major cyber attack which affected operations at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington Wednesday and Thursday.

Rick Yeiser drove up to the UVM Medical Center in Burlington on Wednesday for a scheduled appointment. And he noticed right away that was something was up.

People were standing around, and Yeiser says the hospital staff members were using paper and pencils to sign people in.

“I was standing in line, and the lines were quite long, and I joked with somebody, ‘The Russians did it,’’ he said. “And the guy standing in back of me said, ‘You’re right. They did.’”

Yeiser didn’t know it at the time, but he was apparently right. The UVM Medical Center had in fact been the victim of a cyber attack, that according to national reports, was launched by Russian hackers.

UVM lost access to scheduling systems and patient information, and had to call off many elective procedures. The hospital's ability to test and process COVID-19 tests was also harmed, and the state said it was working with other labs to pick up the slack.

Yeiser says there was a lot of confusion, and frustrated patients who had to turn around and go home.

“One fella’ said he had driven in from north of Plattsburgh, I forget how long that was. Another guy said he had driven for three hours,” Yeiser said. “The system was down. They couldn’t get their MRI, or X-ray, or ultrasound or whatever it is they were there for.”

UVM Health Network service statuses as of Oct. 29, 2020:

Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, New York Maintaining all patient care services. Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, Vermont Maintaining all patient care services, but patients may experience slight delays. Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, New York Maintaining all patient care services, but physician practice patients may experience slight delays. Elizabethtown Community Hospital in Elizabethtown, New York Maintaining all patient care services. Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, Vermont Maintaining all patient care services, including services at the hospital, Helen Porter nursing home and ambulatory practices. UVMHN Home Health and Hospice Maintaining all patient and resident care services. UVM Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont Rescheduling some non-urgent elective procedures. Laboratory test results will be delayed. Outpatient radiology sites are closed at this time. Access to the MyChart Patient Portal is currently unavailable

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the UVM Medical Health Network said the cyber attack affected its various hospitals and medical offices to varying degrees. At Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, for instance, patients were able to receive their care, though there were delays.

UVMMC President and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Leffler says the hack has disrupted many hospital systems but he’s confident patients will continue to get care.

“Babies have been born, things have been happening normally through the day – we have an amazingly high-trained, high-quality staff who know how to take care of patients,” Leffler said. “The tools that we use are little different today than all the electronic systems, but we’re able to provide high quality care.”

UVM Health Network said it could not say how long it would be before it could return to normal operations.

On Tuesday, the FBI sent out an advisory, warning hospitals across the country of imminent cyber attacks. The Washington Post reports that the hospitals in New York and California were hit by ransomware and that the hackers demanded more than $1 million to unlock the system.

UVMMC’s president said no one has demanded money from him.

“I’m the president of the hospital, I’ve received no request for ransom," Leffler said. "I’ve had no contact with anyone at this point, so I really can’t comment on that."

"I was standing in line, and the lines were quite long, and I joked with somebody, 'The Russians did it.' And the guy standing in back of me said, 'You're right. They did.'" — Rick Yeiser, UVM Medical Center patient

UVM sent out a message to its staff and students early Thursday, warning them not to share computer passwords or click on links that appear suspicious.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said Vermont law enforcement officials have been working with university since Wednesday, but the feds are taking the lead.

“Given that there have been simultaneous disruptions to a variety of locations in different parts of the country, and all of them being looked at at the same time, federal law enforcement assets from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are the logical lead agencies to coordinate all of that,” Schirling said.

According to Gov. Phil Scott’s spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley, Scott’s administration is monitoring the situation and offering support where needed, and no state systems are known to be affected.

“The Agency of Digital Services continues to work to ensure the security of State systems,” Kelley wrote in an email.

John Dillon, Liam Elder-Connors and Matthew Smith contributed reporting to this story.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman @hweisstisman.

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