Two weeks after attack, Samaritan restores some computer systems

Updated: Aug. 7, 2020 at 2:08 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Two weeks after an attack forced Samaritan Medical Center to shut down its computers, the hospital has been able to bring some computers back online.

Five computer systems were restored this week, according to Samaritan spokeswoman Leslie DiStefano.

Those five include:

- The computer system which controls the radiation cancer patients get.

- The system which allows doctors to view patient x-rays, MRIs and other medical images.

- Patient records for Samaritan’s specialty clinics, like surgery and ear, nose and throat.

- The system used for dispensing medicines.

- The wireless communications system which allows doctors and nurses to talk to each other throughout the hospital.

“There’s been a lot of progress, but it all takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and we’re really just plugging away so we can do it as safely and securely as possible,” DiStefano said.

Samaritan - the hospital, its clinics and its long term care facilities - was forced to shut down its computer systems after a computer malware attack.

Samaritan officials won’t say whether the attack was “ransomware,” a malicious computer program which demands payment or the hospital’s data is erased. But hospitals worldwide are frequent targets of ransomware.

Because malware spreads with inhuman speed from computer to computer over a network, all of Samaritan’s 1,400 computers have to be carefully checked before they can be put back online. So far, about a third of them have been checked.

“It’s a fairly large system and it takes a long time to go through and look at all of those things.,” DiStefano said.

One thing not restored yet: Samaritan’s payroll system. Samaritan has resorted to paper time cards for its 2,300 employees, and they’re being paid in the current pay period, based on what they were paid two weeks ago.

As a result, employees may not get the exact overtime they worked, or a signing bonus if they just joined Samaritan - but DiStefano said everyone will be paid what they’re owed once the payroll computer system is back up and operating.

As for when Samaritan’s computers are fully restored, Samaritan officials aren’t making any predictions. The restoration work “needs to be safe, it needs to be thorough and diligent,” DiStefano said.

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