Bluewater Health takes another step forward after cyberattack

Bluewater Health says its current health information system is operational again.

Chief of Communications and Public Affairs Keith Marnoch shared the news with Sarnia News Today on Wednesday.

He said the health information system is working in a limited capacity for core clinical teams.

“Getting to this point really marks a milestone for us internally, because it means that many clinical units can now move away from pen and paper and get back to digital documentation and reporting,” Marnoch said.

Patient, employee and professional staff data was taken in the October breach at shared services provider, TransForm Shared Service Organization.

“Our clinical applications have been coming back online in a phased, and secured, approach, rather than us just flipping a switch and having it come back all at once. This will definitely happen over time, but this has been a deliberate strategy to ensure the highest level of security and stability for our system,” Marnoch said.

He said hospital officials are feeling good about the progress.

“I can honestly say that this has been a huge collaborative effort by all of our teams to get to this point where our health information system has become available and now somewhat operational in a limited capacity for the clinical teams,” he said.

In total, five area hospitals were impacted by the breach.

Bluewater Health cancelled thousands of appointments and later reported that the information of over 250,000 patients, including the Social Insurance Numbers (SIN) of thousands who filed WSIB claims, was compromised.

Marnoch said one of the most obvious backlogs exists in the diagnostic imaging department.

“What they’ve been doing in the last number of months is prioritizing emergency and inpatient cases,” he said. “So, we’ve had to cancel about 8,000 appointments due to the cyberattack, that said, at the same time our diagnostic imaging team was still able to complete about 25,000 examinations; MRI’s, CT scans, XRays and so on, since October. So, that’s something that we’re extremely proud of.”

Marnoch said “as the systems become more available the current backlog will be dealt with.”

“It will be based on what [the] patient’s health status is and the type of exam they actually need. The hospital will begin to contact patients directly to reschedule appointments. Some patients may have already heard from us to reschedule their dates. We are looking to add additional DI [diagnostic imaging] staffing resources to work through the backlog while that still exists,” he said.

Marnoch admitted Bluewater Health had to work diligently to ensure staff were paid after payroll was also impacted by the breach.

“It was done in a couple of different ways, but everyone was paid throughout that period. We were forced to come up with, again, innovative ways for that to happen, but we were able — through hard work — to be able to maintain our payroll throughout this period,” said Marnoch.

Earlier this month, Bluewater Health announced a new Hospital Information System (HIS) will be implemented by the end of 2024 to beef up cyber security.

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