Some health services are returning, but no end in sight to the NL cyberattack disruptions

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As the Newfoundland and Labrador health systems continue to grapple with a debilitating cyberattack that has damaged communications and information databases, select services in the province’s four regional health authorities are slowly returning.

During an update on Friday afternoon, officials said that due to security concerns, they are still unable to share any information about the type of attack or the person behind it.

“Everyone wants answers and our government is as transparent as possible at this difficult time,” said Prime Minister Andrew Furey. “We only focus on keeping you informed so that we can all continue to be safe.”

Furey, who was criticized by members of the opposition for his decision to attend COP26 this week, said he was involved in the government’s response to the cyberattack at all times.

“I stayed focused on this topic,” he said.

Furey said he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of the federal cabinet about the cyber attack.

Premier Andrew Furey (left) and Eastern Health CEO David Diamond (right) gave an update on Friday on the cyberattack that has disrupted the NL healthcare system. Health Secretary John Haggie and NL Center for Health Information Vice President Pat Hepditch joined remotely. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

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

The Meditech system, which is being used to facilitate core connectivity, will come 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 the services back, but he was unable to come up with a timeline for the restoration to be completed.

Some units use digital systems while others have reverted to paper methods.

Each regional health authority offers a different level of service on Friday and on the weekend.

General practitioners across the province continue to work. All four regional health authorities will continue to provide emergency services, although there may be delays for patients due to IT disruptions.

Health officials also offer COVID-19 vaccinations and tests, although the test results portal is not available. According to Public Health, 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 into medical transportation and compensation for those who have had to travel for canceled appointments. He said a program announcement should be made within days.

Eastern health

In a statement Thursday evening, Eastern Health said most non-emergency services were canceled on Friday.

“Patients and clients who have not been contacted directly should assume that their appointments have been canceled,” it said.

The health authority said it is rearranging appointments and procedures based on urgency and is working to plan some procedures that can be safely done. Eastern Health’s email system is up and running.

Chemotherapy is offered at a reduced capacity, although other elements of the provincial cancer treatment program, such as radiation, blood tests, and routine exams, are being removed.

Psychiatric clinics will resume on Friday, despite health officials advising patients to contact their clinic prior to their arrival.

High-risk prenatal appointments, INR blood tests, personal dialysis, and maternal-fetal assessment appointments will continue, Eastern Health said.

During Friday’s update, Eastern Health CEO David Diamond said programs were instructed to find out what services they could offer that did not rely on information systems that were not already up and running. He said the services will begin as more IT systems come online.

“Until further notice, we will call you with an appointment or service,” said Diamond.

Central health

Central Health said it will only proceed with services that are not directly affected by the cyber attack.

The health department said the appointments would be postponed after the malfunctions were resolved.

In a statement, Central Health said it would only proceed with services that are not directly affected by the cyber attack. (CBC)

Personal dialysis will continue at the James Paton Memorial Regional Health Center in Gander and the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Center in Grand Falls-Windsor.

Patients are advised to confirm prior telephone rehab, cardiopulmonary and orthopedic outpatient appointments at the James Paton Memorial Regional Health Center. Orthopedic outpatient appointments at the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Center have been canceled.

Psychiatry and addiction help as well as midwifery care will continue.

Blood tests, medical imaging, endoscopy, and mammograms will be canceled.

Western health

In the regional health authority, mostly only emergency appointments are assigned until at least Tuesday, Western Health said in a statement on Thursday.

Meditech’s patient information system is still not available at Western Health and uses a primarily paper-based system.

Western Health said it will contact patients who have appointments coming up.

According to Western Health, only emergency appointments for surgery, endoscopy, blood draw, medical imaging, outpatient EKG and fracture clinics will be held, and all other appointments will be postponed.

Orthopedic central admission, pre-clinic, pain clinic and pap smear appointments will not take place because they require blood tests or medical imaging, the health authority said. The INR blood test will continue.

Chemotherapy appointments at Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital and Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Center will continue while appointments at the Western Memorial Hospital are at a reduced capacity. Western Health said patients will be called directly for confirmation.

Labrador Grenfell Health

On Friday, Haggie said regularly scheduled surgery, chemotherapy, chronic disease treatment appointments, and mental health and addiction services are unaffected and will continue.

Haggie said all routine lab and diagnostic appointments through Tuesday, November 9th, will be canceled and patients will be contacted at a later time to schedule a new appointment. Patients with oncological telemedicine consultations will also be contacted to make a new appointment.

In an email, Labrador-Grenfell Health said it will provide an update to its service on Friday. (Rebecca Martel / CBC)

In a statement late Friday afternoon, Labrador-Grenfell Health said that patients will be contacted with Eastern Heath regarding healthy women’s clinics, endoscopy at Charles Curtis Memorial Hospital, and telemedicine visits for cancer treatments.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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