WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — WPTV has learned new information from Tenet Health regarding ongoing telephone and computer problems at St. Mary's Medical Center and Good Samaritan Medical Center.
Telephone service and some information systems at the hospitals have been hobbled since Wednesday for reasons unknown.
Patients and staff have contacted WPTV NewsChannel 5 expressing concerns about patient care tied to limits of electronic charting and their inability to communicate by telephone.
Patients report doctors and nurses must leave the hospital to use their phones because the devices don't work properly inside.
Official information provided by Tenet Health, the parent company of St. Mary's and Good Samaritan, has been minimal. Saturday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Tenet told WPTV NewsChannel 5:
“We are experiencing network issues in certain systems. We are in the process of bringing those systems back up with strong protocols in place so that care continues without interruption. We are grateful to our physicians and staff for continuing to provide quality care as we work to resolve this matter.”
The spokeswoman declined to answer specific questions from WPTV asking whether Tenet was experiencing a cyber attack and if patient data had been compromised. The company has not identified when systems will be restored.
On Friday, WPTV reporter Todd Wilson spoke with Good Samaritan patient John Rodriguez, who said the paper charting he observed was worrisome, especially so when he saw a nurse drop a stack of papers.
"It is, because they could screw up and give me the wrong medicine or something," said Rodriguez, who had been released after treatment for atrial fibrillation.
After WPTV aired and published the story, a spokeswoman for Tenet Health pushed back on Rodriguez's comment and the reporting.
"A comment by the former patient he (Wilson) interviewed suggesting that a medication error could be made due to paper charting is preposterous and goes completely against what we believe WPTV's journalistic standards to be,” wrote Tenet Director of Public Relations Shelley Weiss Friedberg.
She went on to "ask that you remove Todd Wilson's story on our network outage and to stop airing it. We respectfully ask that you maintain a higher level of integrity when reporting on this topic moving forward."
WPTV interim news director Mark Casey informed Weiss Friedberg the story will remain on the station website and continue to be aired.
"Reference your request to remove Todd Wilson's story, we stand by Todd's reporting and will not remove the video or the text," Casey told Weiss Frieberg in a reply to her email. The full email exchange is included here.
At the time of this story's publication, Tenet had not responded to direct questions asking if the origin of the problems can be traced to a cyber attack, or if the hospitals have been hit with ransomware. In March, President Joe Biden warned companies of the likelihood of cyber attacks from Russia in response to increased economic sanctions brought by the war in Ukraine.
"I have previously warned about the potential that Russia could conduct malicious cyber activity against the United States," Biden said in a statement. "Including as a response to the unprecedented economic costs we've imposed on Russia alongside our allies and partners. It’s part of Russia's playbook."
Hospitals are known to be under a growing threat. Two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology cited the problem in a research paper published in 2018.
"The health care industry has lagged behind other industries in protecting its main stakeholder (ie, patients), and now hospitals must invest considerable capital and effort in protecting their systems," researchers Dr. Mohammad S. Jalali and Jessica P Kaiser wrote. "However, this is easier said than done because hospitals are extraordinarily technology-saturated, complex organizations with high end point complexity, internal politics, and regulatory pressures."
WPTV will continue to follow this story and bring any new information to viewers on this website and in regularly scheduled newscasts.