Major New Jersey Health System Suffers Computer Disruptions

New Jersey’s largest health network is grappling with “externally-driven technical issues” that have shut down computer systems at its facilities since Monday, while officials deny widespread problems.

by Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media Group / December 9, 2019
Shutterstock

(TNS) — New Jersey’s largest health network is grappling with “externally-driven technical issues” that have shut down computer systems at its facilities since Monday, yet officials denied a widespread problem and remained mum on the source of the disruptions, NJ Advance Media has learned.

The technical issues occurred at facilities associated with Hackensack Meridian Health, which includes 17 hospitals, nursing homes and urgent care centers across the state, according to hospital and union officials.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Hackensack Meridian said, "We have been experiencing intermittent IT system interruptions across our network due to external technical issues. The impact on patient care has been limited to rescheduling a small number of non-emergent procedures.

“We are not aware of any impact to the confidentiality of Hackensack Meridian Health information, including patient records,” the statement continued. “We are working diligently to remedy the situation and expect these systems to be operational very soon. In the meantime, we are using manual patient records so there is no impact on care.”

About 100 patients rescheduled elective surgeries, according to the statement.

A hospital IT professional told NJ Advance Media on Thursday that doctors briefed on the disruptions were told Hackensack Meridian’s “systems were shut down across the board.” The IT professional requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

“It involves anything with computer software — scheduling and billing systems and labs and radiology," the IT professional said.

Bridget Devane, spokeswoman for Health Professionals and Allied Employees, or HPAE, said nurses “are extremely concerned.”

“There have been delays in orders, lab work and they are having to double-check paperwork carefully to make sure everything is accurate," she said.

Despite the interruptions, paychecks will be issued as normal, and there will be no impact to direct deposit, hospital officials said.

The state Health Department, which licenses hospitals, “is aware of the systemwide computer issues at Hackensack-Meridian Health and is working closely with the leadership team,” state spokeswoman Donna Leusner said. Hospital officials advised that systems were being restored “with plans in place for the restoration of the remaining systems,” she added.

A spokeswoman for Hackensack Meridian, Mary Jo Layton, refused to provide additional details on the exact nature of the “externally-driven technical issues,” including whether it was a form of ransomware.

Ransomware is malicious software, known as malware, that is usually sent under the guise of a legitimate-looking link or email attachment. If clicked or opened, the malware encrypts data on a computer system, often restricting access to the system until a ransom is paid. Hackers also threaten to compromise data in many cases unless the victim agrees to pay the ransom.

Emsisoft, a cybersecurity firm, issued a report in October on the state of ransomware in the U.S. in 2019, documenting at least 621 attacks against government agencies, health care service providers and school districts through the first nine months of the year.

The report said attacks have “caused massive disruption.”

“Municipal and emergency services have been interrupted, medical practices have permanently closed, ER patients have been diverted, property transactions halted, the collection of property taxes and water bills delayed, medical procedures canceled, schools closed and data lost,” the report said.

In October, three hospitals in Alabama temporarily closed their facilities to new patients because of a ransomware attack that impacted the facilities’ computer systems, according to a report by CBS42.com.

Just last week, the Livingston School District’s payroll system was disrupted after a ransomware attack, which ultimately led to a delayed opening of schools. Over the weekend, a performance of “A Christmas Carol” at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey was canceled due to a ransomware attack on the database and ticketing system.

©2019 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs