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It's not just Scripps. Ransomware has become rampant in health care during pandemic

Paul Sisson, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

It is clear, though, that the attack has hit Scripps very, very hard at a moment when the nation's health care workers were just starting to recover from a year fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The attack caused a widespread ambulance diversion from all Scripps hospitals, taking them out of the emergency medical response system when a boat capsized off Point Loma Sunday. Survivors were sent to eight different hospitals throughout the region, but not to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, the closest trauma center, because its systems were down.

As computers remained offline through the week, the diversion softened, said Dr. Eric McDonald, recently appointed to serve as the county's chief medical officer in the absence of Dr. Nick Yphantides who was put on administrative leave early this year for still-unexplained reasons.

While not operating at usual efficiency levels, McDonald said that Scripps hospitals have been able to continue serving patients, receiving some ambulance traffic when required. The cruelty of these kinds of attacks, he added, falls on those who deserve it least.

"This is another significant stress on what has been a long-standing level of stress on our entire hospital system," McDonald said. "You really have to give kudos and support to the doctors and nurses and many other kinds of workers who are continuing to deliver care while this is going on."

Patients have generally said that they have found Scripps workers competent and cordial over the past week, though some are starting to experience significant frustration with the situation, especially around the lack of communication regarding previously-scheduled appointments.

 

Kyle Long, a local resident and Scripps patient, said he had a bone marrow biopsy scheduled for Monday delayed with only last-minute communications from Scripps.

"As far as I am concerned, Scripps receives an F for how they handled this breach," Long said in an email.

Scripps has provided little detail into exactly which of its systems, beyond its electronic medical record, have been taken down by the attack. And it has not said whether some amount of its sensitive patient records were siphoned out of its systems and into cyber terrorist servers under threat of disclosure or sale to the highest bidder.

That uncertainty left many Scripps customers demanding answers on the company's Facebook page. Many wondered whether they should freeze their credit reports and hire reputation-protection services to protect themselves if information does leak out.

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