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Ascension, owner of 15 Michigan hospitals, confirms cyberattack was ransomware

Phone lock to protect from cyber scam, online data fraud or identity theft. Laptop with hacker virus code in screen.
In its latest update about the ransomware attack, Ascension warns that it can no longer accept credit cards at its pharmacies. (Shutterstock)
  • A cyberattack at one of the nation’s largest hospital chains began last week
  • On Monday, Ascension alerted patients it can no longer take credit cards at its own pharmacies
  • Patients are asked to write down health information, including symptoms and medications, for their appointments.

May 16: Ransomware update: Ascension can’t fill prescriptions at its Michigan pharmacies

Ascension hospitals, doctors offices, and other sites remain “open and operational,” but patients can expect delays, the St. Louis-based Catholic health-care giant assured patients Monday evening.

Five days after it first recognized the massive security breach, Ascension said its pharmacies can no longer take credit cards, and it acknowledged its dependence now on “manual and paper based systems” as it tries to resolve the breach.

Patients needing prescription refills at Ascension pharmacies should bring their bottles with them to the pharmacies, and “certain” hospitals continue to divert ambulances to other non-Ascension hospitals.

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Retail pharmacies are able to fill prescriptions, “but also ask patients to bring their prescription bottles from a previous fill.”

The chain sought to reassure patients: “Despite the challenges posed by the recent ransomware incident, patient safety continues to be our utmost priority,” according to a statement Monday evening.

Scheduled doctor’s visits are “proceeding as planned.”

It followed Ascension’s confirmation Saturday that the cyberattack last week was, in fact, an act of “ransomware.”

The system operates 15 Michigan hospitals. It released no details on the attack, including the hackers’ demands. 

In its statement released Saturday, Ascension said it is in “close contact” with the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Ascension is sharing information with industry partners so they can protect themselves from a similar attack, the health-care giant said in its statement.

It also warned that restoring the computer system will take time.

“While we expect this process will take time to complete, we are making progress and systems are being restored in a coordinated manner at each of our care sites,” according to the statement.

What patients should do 

On Monday, Ascension continued to direct patients to write down symptoms and a list of current medications or to hold onto their prescription bottles — so that medical offices can call in prescriptions.

Patients are expected to keep their appointments, although some “nonemergency procedures, tests and appointments have been temporarily paused,” Ascension has said. 

The hospital chain said it was working “around the clock” to resolve the issue, but can offer no timeline on when its operations will return to normal. 

Access to health records disrupted

The problems began Wednesday when the St. Louis-based hospital system “detected unusual activity on select technology network systems.” On Thursday, characterized the problems as a “cybersecurity event” and later that same day as a “cybersecurity incident.” 

The attack cut off access to the system’s electronic health records system. That included patient records on MyChart, which allows patients to see their records, schedule appointments and talk with providers.

It also disrupted phones as well as scheduling and testing processes, and forced the rerouting of at least some Michigan patients.

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