How a ransomware attack exacerbated St. Michael's workforce shortage

Silverdale, Wash.-based St. Michael Medical Center experienced an October ransomware attack that exacerbated the hospital's short staffing issues that have been persisting for months, Kitsap Sun reported Dec. 2. 

The hospital was a part of the ransomware attack that plagued Chicago-based CommonSpirit facilities, and due to the attack, St. Michael's had to shut down its Epic EHR system. 

This caused staff to have no access to patient records, as well as no backup information.

In addition, without Epic, the facility had to operate without a central communication system and the patient safety checks that the platform provides. 

This caused the health system to switch to a paper record keeping system, which slowed their processes down significantly.

The ransomware attack also caused delays in the emergency department, leading some patients to slip through the cracks in the waiting room, only to be discovered during roll calls, according to the report.  

Ambulances were also backing up as crews waited to hand off patients to the emergency department for care.

Delayed lab results, which usually came back in a few hours, were also slowing patient care, and safeguards in the medication delivery process were removed. 

This caused communication between departments to slow. 

The timekeeping system for employees also went down, causing issues regarding pay that are still being figured out, according to the report. 

"You couldn't look up any patient history," said an emergency department nurse at the hospital who requested to not be identified by name. "A lot of patients don't know what medications they take or even what their allergies are. We had no access to that."

Since the ransomware attack took place, the hospital has restored its systems. 

The state's health department is now conducting an investigation into the incident to determine any deficiencies in St. Michael's response plan to the attack, according to the report.

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