Illinois hospital links closure to ransomware attack


An Illinois hospital will close its doors this week in part due to a devastating cyberattack, which experts say makes it the first hospital to publicly link criminal hackers to its closure.

St. Margaret’s Health in Spring Valley will close Friday, said Linda Burt, the hospital’s vice president of quality and community services.

Suzanne Stahl, president of SMP Health, the hospital’s parent organization, said last month that the hospital planned to close this year. “Due to a number of factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the cyberattack on St. Margaret’s Health’s computer system, and staff shortages, it has become impossible to sustain our ministry,” she said in a statement. facebook video.

Ransomware attacks, in which hackers remotely cripple an organization’s computers and demand extortion payment, have plagued US healthcare since 2016, said Allan Liska, a ransomware analyst at the cyber security firm Recorded Future. Data compiled by Liska and his team showed at least 300 documented attacks a year on American healthcare facilities since 2020. This year he is on track to match that.

Spring Valley Mayor Melanie Malooley-Thompson said the hospital closure means some residents will have to travel about half an hour for emergency room and obstetric services.

“The closure of the hospital will have a profound impact on the well-being of our community. This will be a challenging transition for many residents who trust our hospital for quality healthcare.” Malooley-Thompson said Saturday on Facebook.

Kelly Klotz, 52, a Spring Valley resident with multiple medical problems, said she was concerned the campaign could lead to medical complications for her and her parents.

“I need access to good medical care at any time,” he said. “It’s not like I can say I’ll schedule my stroke in six months. It’s devastating for this area.”

“If you have a heart attack or stroke, the odds are in your favor, because you won’t make it in time,” Klotz said.

Hospitals that fall victim to ransomware attacks often have to struggle to find ways to suddenly work without the computers that have become an integral part of modern healthcare. Healthcare workers may be forced to go back to using pen and paper for patient charts and prescriptions, which has led to patients receiving incorrect doses of medication and delays in operations. An attack can force ambulances to be diverted to other hospitals.

Multiple studies have shown a correlation between hospital downtime due to ransomware attacks and increased mortality rates.

TO ransomware attack hit SMP Health in 2021. The attack halted the hospital’s ability to file claims with insurers, Medicare or Medicaid for months, leading to a financial spiral, Burt said.

“It’s devastating,” Burt said of the attack.

“You are dead in the water,” he said. “We were down a minimum of 14 weeks. And then you’re trying to recover. Nothing came. No claims. Nothing was entered. So it took months and months and months.”

Since 2005, 99 rural hospitals have closed permanently in the US, according to a project of the University of North Carolina. Brock Slabach, a spokesman for the National Rural Health Association, a nonprofit industry group, said rural hospitals that close tend to be in poorer areas with higher unemployment.

Experts who track healthcare cyberattacks said they believed Spring Valley is the first hospital to cite a cyberattack as the reason it closed.

“There are countless examples of small businesses that have gone bankrupt after ransomware attacks because they couldn’t restore their systems or couldn’t pay to get back up and running,” Errol Weiss, director of security for Health-ISAC, a government-nonprofit group. funded company that shares cyber threat information with hospitals, he said in an email. “It is tragic that we can now count a hospital in this statistic.”

SMP owns another hospital in the nearby city of Peru. It suspended operations in January.

Another Midwestern Catholic healthcare organization, OSF, has reached an agreement to purchase and restart service at the hospital in Peru, though that will not take effect for the foreseeable future.

“OSF is working to achieve this as quickly as possible, because we know what access to good healthcare means to the community in and around Peru,” OSF media relations coordinator Shelli said in an email. Dankoff. However, “there is no specific timetable” for when care will resume, she said.

Meanwhile, residents will have to deal with much longer commutes for OB and ER services.

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