Scripps Health ransomware shutdown hits the two-week mark

A screenshot of Scripps Health's main website on May 14.
This screenshot of Scripps Health’s main website on May 14 shows a message that has been in place since shortly after the health system’s ransomware attack started May 1.

As Scripps Health reaches the two-week mark in its ongoing ransomware outage, the “will be back soon” message posted on its website is beginning to look more than a little optimistic.

Though a company spokesman said the health system had nothing new to report on the situation May 14, employees who said they wished to be anonymous to avoid losing their jobs said that electronic medical records systems remained offline, continuing to force paper documentation and slowing the pace of care, especially in emergency departments.

Two people privy to the situation inside Scripps said a decision was made May 14 to again divert stroke, trauma and heart attack cases from Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla due to concerns about a recent influx of emergency patients at the facility, one of the largest in San Diego.

“I cannot stress this enough — every minute we are there we feel like we are playing with our license,” said one nurse, who added that many have been advising their own family members to stay away. “We are all buying malpractice insurance at this time.”

Regulators so far have not expressed similar concerns. In an email May 14, the California Department of Public Health said it “continues to monitor” Scripps’ facilities and that they “are operational and caring for patients using appropriate contingency protocols.”

Patients continued to give mixed reviews of how their care is being influenced by the long-running cyberattack.

Steve Bernitz of Encinitas said he has been a Scripps spine surgery patient for six years and currently has two ruptured discs in his back that likely will require surgery.

Simply getting Scripps to acknowledge that he was its patient has been nearly impossible, he said, despite the fact that he has been in “great pain” for 10 days.

“They won’t take appointments, they won’t answer any questions about what is happening or when they might reopen, aren’t referring people to outside doctors and will not even allow their doctors to speak with their patients via telephone, as they say they cannot do that without a functioning medical records system,” Bernitz said.

Six calls to try to schedule an appointment went nowhere, he said. Finally, there was a breakthrough “after I threatened to hire a lawyer to deal with their indifference,” he added.

But the experience was much different for June, a San Diego-area resident who said she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer during the coronavirus pandemic. She wanted to keep her last name private because she has not yet told all members of her extended family of her diagnosis.

A lung biopsy scheduled for May 11 went forward as planned, she said.

“At no time were the various folks rude or flustered by using paper and pen,” she said. “Everyone treated me respectfully and properly. My lung biopsy was handled with skill and concern.”

Though it was clear that many were out of practice using more manual methods, June said that, in her experience, there was plenty of safety-related redundancy.

“Everything was double- and triple-checked,” she said. ◆