Windsor

Patient gets biopsy in U.S. after she says she was denied in Ontario due to ransomware attack

Amherstburg, Ont., resident Jennifer Duguay says she’s still in disbelief that she crossed the border to get a biopsy after she was denied care in Windsor due to ongoing hospital delays caused by a ransomware attack.

Windsor Regional Hospital says it has been rescheduling postponed appointments

A woman sits outside on a patio looking straight at the camera.
Jennifer Duguay, 52, says that on Nov. 8, Windsor Regional Hospital told her they weren't able to book her in for an urgent biopsy to check if she had inflammatory breast cancer. She says she was told the hospital was still dealing with the impact of a ransomware attack Oct. 23. She also says the hospital told her she couldn't get the biopsy outside of the region. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Amherstburg, Ont., resident Jennifer Duguay says she's still in disbelief that she crossed the border to get a biopsy after she was denied care in Windsor due to ongoing hospital delays caused by a ransomware attack.

The 52-year-old said that after three weeks of dealing with a large rash on her chest, her family doctor told her she might have inflammatory breast cancer — a rare and aggressive type. 

She said her doctor told her she would be referred to Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH) for an urgent biopsy. But days later, on Nov. 8, Duguay said the hospital's Breast Health Centre called and told her it couldn't be done because computer systems were still down from a cyberattack. 

"[I was in] absolute shock that my doctor's referring me for something that's an emergency and I'm being told no? Absolute shock," she said. "I was very upset ... and I said, 'This is my life. What are you talking about?'"

Duguay also said she was told she couldn't go outside of the region to get the biopsy in London or Toronto. 

"I don't understand why this was an emergency here and I was told no," she said. 

"I would like an answer to my face. What is the reason why you said no to me? Did you even look at the referral?" 

WATCH | Duguay says she wants to know why she was denied a biopsy she felt was an emergency

Jennifer Duguay says she wants to know why she was denied the biopsy

7 months ago
Duration 1:14
Duguay, 52, says she was told that she couldn't get a biopsy done by Windsor Regional Hospital's Breast Health Centre because they were still dealing with the impacts of a ransomware attack. She also says she was told she couldn't get it done elsewhere in the province.

WRH is one of five health-care facilities in southwestern Ontario that has been trying to recover from a ransomware attack on Oct. 23. As a result of clinical and non-clinical systems being impacted, the hospital has said procedures might be cancelled or delayed, but that these appointments will be rescheduled. 

Feeling she had no other option, Duguay said she called Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. 

Though it has been years since she has crossed the border for anything, Duguay said she knew she couldn't wait around for answers. 

Shortly after she reached out to Henry Ford on Nov. 8, she said, she was at the hospital getting a 3D ultrasound and biopsy. About 26 hours later, she learned she was negative for inflammatory breast cancer. 

She has since been told that her procedures will cost $1,365 US — a bill that she said she'll be sending to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). 

Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj says all the patients so far have been COVID positive.
Windsor Regional Hospital spokesperson Steve Erwin says they are doing their best to accommodate people. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

In a text message, WRH spokesperson Steve Erwin declined an interview and said the hospital can't get into specifics due to patient confidentiality.

He said patients with postponed appointments during the first week of the cyberattack were contacted "within days of the postponement to be rebooked." 

"Some have already been completed while others have selected dates into their future due to their own schedule," reads part of his message. Erwin added the hospital is doing its best to reschedule people. 

Several patients treated in Michigan: Henry Ford Hospital 

According to Henry Ford Hospital, Duguay isn't the only one who has been treated across the border. 

Sam Mossallam, the vice-president and medical director for Henry Ford Health International, said they have had a "significant uptick" in the number of calls from Canadians requesting quotes for certain scans and chemotherapy treatment since the ransomware attack last month. 

He said dozens have inquired and several have received treatment, including one person who is getting a radiation procedure, while others have gone for biopsies and CAT, MRI or PET scans. 

"In general for our Canadian patients and colleagues, we are able to get patients in within a week, we are able to work with our teams here who are more than happy to accommodate and get procedures done," Mossallam said. 

A man sits with lamps behind him.
Sam Mossallam, vice-president and medical director for Henry Ford Health International, says they are hearing from more people in southwestern Ontario than usual who are looking for care. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

He also said OHIP has reached out to see if the hospital has capacity to take on cancer patients, but none have been sent over through OHIP. 

Mossallam said they do also offer discounts for Canadian patients. 

In an email, the Ministry of Health said it can't comment on specific cases, but added it is working with WRH to "expedite approval of applications on behalf of WRH patients for funding of treatment outside of the country, as a result of the cyberattack, if criteria are met."

It added that under the Ontario Health Insurance Act, there are a "number of specific requirements" a person must meet before they can qualify for funding related to out-of-country medical services under OHIP. 

'Lack of resilience' 

Sara Allin, associate professor of health policy at the University of Toronto, said Duguay's situation is a "signal of the lack of resilience in our health system." 

If one part of the province can't accommodate a person's care, Allin said, other areas should have the capacity to take those patients.

"If we can't, that seems like a pretty big problem," she said.

"And if we can't and people are going to the United States, then I think that that should be [financially] covered." 

A woman with glasses sits beside a plant on a window sil.
Sara Allin, an associate professor of health policy at the University of Toronto, says the situation in southwestern Ontario highlights vulnerabilities in the system that need to be addressed through policymaking and improving IT infrastructure. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Allin also said that in moments like these, "trust is really undermined." She said health-care leaders and elected government officials need to come out of this with set goals and monitor progress in transparent ways. 

In the hospitals' first news conference since the cyberattack on Friday, WRH CEO David Musyj said they apologize for the issues this has caused patients, and that their focus is on patient care as well as rebuilding trust. 

As for Duguay, she said she will go to Henry Ford for future concerns around her breast health. 

When it comes to Canada's health-care system, Duguay said, it hasn't failed her until this moment. And while she doesn't believe it's a broken system, she has lost a bit of faith in being able to rely on it in emergency situations. 

"We can't just blame one part of the system and we also can't say the whole thing's broken, because I don't think it is. There's a ton of good people that work there," she said.

"There should have been parameters in place, there should have been ways to get things that are emergencies. This wasn't me sitting in the [ER] with sniffles. This is not what this was. This was very serious." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer La Grassa

Videojournalist

Jennifer La Grassa is a videojournalist at CBC Windsor. She is particularly interested in reporting on healthcare stories. Have a news tip? Email jennifer.lagrassa@cbc.ca