Some health services return, but no end in sight for N.L. cyberattack disruptions

·5 min read
Premier Andrew Furey, left, and Eastern Health CEO David Diamond, right, gave an update on Friday on the cyberattack that has disrupted the N.L. health-care system. Health Minister John Haggie and N.L. Centre for Health Information VP Pat Hepditch joined remotely. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Premier Andrew Furey, left, and Eastern Health CEO David Diamond, right, gave an update on Friday on the cyberattack that has disrupted the N.L. health-care system. Health Minister John Haggie and N.L. Centre for Health Information VP Pat Hepditch joined remotely. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)

As the Newfoundland and Labrador health-care system continues to contend with a debilitating cyberattack that has damaged communications and information databases, select services are slowly returning in the province's four regional health authorities.

During an update Friday afternoon, officials said they still can't share information about the nature of the attack or who is behind it for security reasons.

"Everyone wants answers, and our government is being as transparent as possible during this troubling time," said Premier Andrew Furey. "We are exclusively focused on keeping you informed in a way that continues to keep us all safe."

Furey, who has been criticized by members of the Opposition for his decision to attend COP26 this week, said he has been engaged in the government's response to the cyberattack all along.

"I remained focused on this issue," he said.

Furey said he's spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of federal cabinet about the cyberattack.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Health Minister John Haggie said the province is in an unprecedented situation.

The Meditech system used to facilitate core connectivity is coming back online in Eastern Health and Central Health, while Western Health plans to work on its network this weekend, according to Haggie. The regional health authorities are slowly bringing back services, but he couldn't give a timeline for when the restoration will be complete.

Some units are using digital systems, while others have reverted to paper methods.

Each regional health authority is providing a different level of service on Friday and heading into the weekend.

Family physicians across the province are continuing to operate. All four regional health authorities will continue providing emergency services, although patients may experience delays due to the IT disruptions.

The health authorities are also providing COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, although the test result portal is unavailable. Public Health says patients will be contacted if their test is positive, and if they don't get a call after 72 hours they can assume their test is negative.

Haggie said the Department of Health has a working group looking at medical transportation and compensation for those who have had to travel for appointments that have been cancelled. He said a program announcement should come within days.

Eastern Health

In a statement Thursday night, Eastern Health said most of Friday's non-emergency services have been cancelled.

"Patients and clients who have not been contacted directly, should assume that their appointments have been cancelled," it said.

The health authority said it is rescheduling appointments and procedures based on the level of urgency, and is working on scheduling some procedures that can be safely performed. Eastern Health's email system is operating.

Chemotherapy will be provided at a reduced capacity, although other elements of the provincial cancer-care program, like radiation, blood work and routine screenings, are cancelled.

Psychiatry clinics will resume Friday, although the health authority advised patients to contact their clinic before arriving for their appointment.

High-risk prenatal appointments, INR blood testing, in-person dialysis and maternal-fetal assessment appointments will continue, said Eastern Health.

During the update on Friday, Eastern Health CEO David Diamond said programs have been directed to figure out what services they can provide that don't rely on information systems not yet up and running. He said services will begin to ramp up as more IT systems come online.

"Until further notice, if you're to receive an appointment or to receive a service, we'll call you," said Diamond.

Central Health

Central Health said it would be proceeding only with services not directly affected by the cyberattack.

The health authority said appointments would be rescheduled once the disruptions have been resolved.

CBC
CBC

In-person dialysis at James Paton Memorial Regional Health Centre in Gander and Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor will go ahead.

Patients are advised to call ahead to confirm rehab and cardiopulmonary appointments and orthopedic outpatient appointments at the James Paton Memorial Regional Health Centre. Orthopedic outpatient appointments at the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre have been cancelled.

Mental health and addictions services as well as midwifery care will proceed.

Blood work, medical imaging, endoscopy and mammograms are cancelled.

Western Health

For the most part, only emergency appointments will go ahead in the regional health authority until at least Tuesday, said Western Health in a statement Thursday.

The Meditech patient information system is still down in Western Health, and it is using a primarily paper-based system.

Western Health said it would contact patients who have appointments that are going ahead.

Only emergency appointments for surgery, endoscopy, blood collection, medical imaging, outpatient EKG and fracture clinics will be going ahead, and all other appointments will be rescheduled, according to Western Health.

Orthopedic central intake, pre-admission clinic, pain clinic and pap smear appointments will not go ahead because they require blood work or medical imaging, said the health authority. INR blood work will proceed.

Chemotherapy appointments at Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital and Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre will proceed, while appointments at Western Memorial Hospital will proceed at a reduced capacity. Western Health said patients will be called directly to confirm.

Labrador-Grenfell Health

On Friday, Haggie said regularly scheduled surgical procedures, chemotherapy, chronic disease management appointments, and mental health and addictions services are not impacted and will continue.

Haggie said all routine laboratory and diagnostic appointments are cancelled up to and including Tuesday, Nov. 9, and patients will be contacted to reschedule at a later date. Patients with oncology telehealth consultations will also be contacted to reschedule.

Rebecca Martel/CBC
Rebecca Martel/CBC

In a statement late Friday afternoon, Labrador-Grenfell Health said patients will be contacted regarding well women clinics, endoscopy at Charles Curtis Memorial Hospital and telehealth visits for cancer care consultations with Eastern Heath.

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