‘Cybersecurity incident’ to blame for technology outage at HSHS hospitals, CEO says

It’s been nearly a week since a massive technology outage hit hospitals and other facilities in the Hospital Sisters Health System, including St. Elizabeth’s in O’Fallon and four other hospitals in southwestern Illinois.

On Friday, after days of broad statements from HSHS officials, President and CEO Damond Boatright announced in a video that a “cybersecurity incident” had caused internet service, websites, telephones and computer applications to stop functioning.

“Our investigation into the scope and impact (of) the incident is ongoing,” he said. “We’re receiving assistance from third-party experts, and we also are working with law enforcement.”

The nonprofit Catholic health system based in Springfield operates 15 hospitals and other medical facilities in Illinois and Wisconsin. Boatright said HSHS was “making progress” and “bringing back critical systems.”

“(We) have restored many of our internal communication applications, like email and messaging,” he said. “Our IT colleagues, along with our outside experts, are working nonstop to fully restore our remaining offline hospital systems as quickly as possible so we can return to normal operations.”

As of Saturday morning, the HSHS website was still down. It’s been replaced with an “updates” page, where the video with Boatright’s message was posted at 7 p.m. Friday.

Earlier in the day, officials had declined to answer questions from the BND, including those related to patient safety and security of private records, in anticipation of Boatright’s statement.

“We have deployed additional security measures to safeguard our systems, and we have not detected any further unauthorized access in our IT environment,” he stated in the video.

Boatright, who took the HSHS helm about two years ago, said officials will share more information as it becomes available but warned that some information cannot be shared to “protect the security of our systems and the privacy of the patients and communities we serve.”

A hand-printed notice informs patients that the Convenient Care Imaging Open MRI Center in the O’Fallon Medical Building affiliated with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital is closed on Friday.
A hand-printed notice informs patients that the Convenient Care Imaging Open MRI Center in the O’Fallon Medical Building affiliated with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital is closed on Friday.

Throughout the week, HSHS patients have reported an inability to access online charts or reach their doctors by phone or email. Imaging centers, office buildings and other facilities have been closed.

On Friday morning, HSHS Medical Group, a physicians group affiliated with the health system, posted a Facebook notice warning that people had been receiving emails, texts and phone calls from sources claiming to be HSHS representatives seeking payment for services.

“At this time, we are not collecting payments from any patients for outstanding bills,” the notice stated.

“We will notify you when billing processes are back up and running. Please do not respond to these types of messages. We ask that you save them so that we can track and investigate the source. Forward the information to spam@hshs.org.”

The technology outage began Sunday morning, according to Facebook posts by HSHS and Prevea Health, a physicians group that HSHS partners with at its Wisconsin hospitals and other facilities.

On Tuesday, Kelly Barbeau, Illinois Division director of marketing and communications for HSHS, said the health system had implemented “downtime policies and procedures” for dealing with technology outages.

Barbeau sent the following email after being asked if surgeries and other medical procedures were being canceled:

“As soon as we were alerted to this issue, internal operations teams engaged immediately to confirm scheduled procedures with as many patients as possible, which resulted in minimal cancellations. We continue to coordinate with providers to proceed with scheduling necessary appointments for their patients.”

Other HSHS facilities in southwestern Illinois include St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland, Holy Family Hospital in Greenville, St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield, Prairie Heart Institute at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon and HSHS Medical Group offices.

In the video, Boatright acknowledged that the technology outage had caused disruptions for patients and their loved ones.

“Thank you for your patience and understanding as we fully restore phone service and other online tools that you rely on to reach us and coordinate your care,” he said. “Trust and transparency are foundational to HSHS and how we provide care in our ministries.”