Hospital nearly normal more than a month after attack

Operations are mostly back to normal at Johnson Memorial Health five weeks after the hospital’s computer network was hacked.

The hackers gained access to the Franklin hospital’s network at 10:31 p.m. Oct. 1, and installed ransomware by 10:33 p.m. The hospital’s IT team discovered the attack within about 15 minutes and immediately shut down the system.

The attack impacted the hospital’s computer and phone networks, and made it difficult to share patient information such as lab results and scans between departments.

The hospital reverted to paper records for doctor notes, and the emergency room was on diversion for a month.

The billing department was not able to submit bills electronically, payroll was figured up on calculators and physical checks were written to vendors.

This week, most of the hospital’s technology is restored, said Dr. David Dunkle, president and CEO.

“The darkest days are behind us, but there is a lot of work left to do,” Dunkle said.

Phones are operational, patient records can be shared electronically and the emergency room is open again. The last major piece of the technology puzzle is email, but hospital staff is making due by using backup email accounts when an email must be sent, he said.

Though some aspects of the system are still slower than normal, such as charting and medical billing, the patient experience is largely back to normal, Dunkle said.

The return to normal has boosted morale at the hospital, as staff at all levels had been strained since the attack, he said.

“I’m seeing smiling faces again and that’s what makes me happy,” Dunkle said.

The hospital’s IT department is still combing through the computer network to see what, if anything, may have been compromised by the hackers. It takes time. They are wiping about 1,000 computers and tablets that are used by hospital staff, he said.

Combing the system takes many weeks — potentially months — so there is no timeframe for when the full investigation might be closed, Dunkle said.

“We are going to keep doing what we are doing,” he said. “Every day we continue to look through things and get back to normal as quickly as possible.”