Windsor

Sarnia patient wants to see more support for urgent cases as hospital systems slowly come back online

As hospitals say they are on track with their recovery, a patient in Sarnia speaks out about what she says has been a lack of support and guidance for people waiting on important tests.

Hospitals say they have put 'extensive security measures in place' to protect systems

A woman sits inside of a car smiling.
Ann-Marie De Araujo, 43, says she was scrambling to find an appointment elsewhere in Ontario after her MRI was cancelled in Sarnia due to the ransomware attack. De Araujo says she would have expected the hospital to provide her with more guidance on where else she could go to get it done, but instead she was left to figure it out on her own. (Submitted by Ann-Marie De Araujo)

After Sarnia, Ont., resident Ann-Marie De Araujo was told that her MRI appointment for a suspected brain tumour would have to be rescheduled as the hospital was dealing with a ransomware attack, she knew she couldn't just sit around and wait. 

So instead, the 43-year-old called about six hospitals in southern Ontario to see if she could secure an appointment. 

"When I called [the hospital in Kitchener-Waterloo] they told me, 'sure we can take you on, but it's going to be eight to 10 months,'" said De Araujo. 

"I was like, 'nope, that's not good.' Next." 

De Araujo is one of thousands of patients in southwestern Ontario whose appointments have been cancelled due to a ransomware attack. Five hospitals in Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent and Sarnia are still recovering from the attack, which took down hospital systems on Oct. 23. As a result, hospital employees have been unable to access critical patient information or use diagnostic imaging tools. 

Since then, CBC News has spoken to patients across the region who have said they are struggling to get timely care or receive support from their hospital when it comes to next steps they can take to meet their health-care needs. 

Hospitals, IT provider say recovery 'on pace' with set goals 

In a joint statement Thursday from the hospitals and their IT provider, TransForm Shared Services Organization, they said that recovery is "on pace" with the goals set last month to have their "core clinical systems online" by mid-December. 

In particular, they said that charting systems have started coming back online as of last week. 

A photo of a window with the Bluewater health logo
Bluewater Health in Sarnia is one of five area hospitals hit with a cyberattack. (Kerri Breen/CBC)

"Work continues on an isolated plan to bring systems online for Bluewater Health due to the complexities of its system. In addition, we have put extensive security measures in place to safeguard our systems," reads part of the statement.

But patients like De Araujo say they would have liked to have seen hospitals provide better guidance for those dealing with matters the patients consider to be urgent.

In August, De Araujo says that following some tests her eye doctor told her to get checked for a brain tumour. Initially, she says her appointment was scheduled for early December, but De Araujo was able to get it bumped to Nov. 8 as she got on a cancellation list. 

Days before her appointment, De Araujo says she was told it would have to be rescheduled — it wasn't clear when. 

"It was the first time I've ever had such a potential kind of diagnosis or thought that there may be something wrong, especially when it deals with the head or the brain, so I wasn't OK to just sit around and wait for an indefinite period of time," she said. 

Out of the hospitals she called, De Araujo says Guelph General Hospital was able to quickly accommodate her. Within a few days, she had the appointment and got her results: she was in the clear. 

'Disappointed' in how situation has been handled: patient

But, the whole ordeal has left her feeling deflated. 

"I was really disappointed really in how this is being handled," she said. 

"I understand that it is not the hospitals' fault, that this is not their doing, but in how it's being managed and the impact and repercussions for patients and the people that they serve in our different communities, that's where I've been really disappointed in the leadership, response, the support — it's just not been there." 

WATCH: De Araujo says this situation has left her feeling disappointed

Ann-Marie De Araujo says she is 'disappointed' by lack of leadership on the issue

4 months ago
Duration 1:42
De Araujo's MRI appointment for a possible brain tumour was cancelled as a result of the ransomwareattack on hospitals in southwestern Ontario. While she says she doesn't blame the hospitals for this having happened, she wishes there had been more support in how she could access timely care outside of her region.

In the joint statement from the hospitals and TransForm, the message acknowledges that "this has been an incredibly challenging period for our communities." 

"This criminal cyberattack has affected our patients, employees and professional staff, causing disruptions to the high quality you expect at our organizations. We are incredibly grateful for the patience you, our communities and staff, have provided us as we work to restore systems and normal operations," reads part of the statement. 

In a separate statement posted by Bluewater Health, the hospital said it has run into "complexities" in the process, so as a result their entire system won't come back on all at once. Rather, it said its core clinical applications will come back online as they become available. 

"It's a deliberate strategy aimed at ensuring the highest level of security," reads the hospital statement. 

It continued to say that strengthening their network security against future threats is most important and that they are working with TransForm and iSecurity to "build the highest level of security" into their systems. 

"In fact, an intense concentration on network security, and ensuring that we do not experience a repeated cyberattack, is at the heart of Bluewater Health's continuing restoration efforts. While this dedication affects our restoration timelines, rest assured it is an essential step that we won't compromise. We understand the importance of safeguarding our systems to prevent any recurrence of such an incident," the hospital said. 

CBC News has reached out to get further comment from the hospital, but did not hear back in time for publication. 

Reflecting on this situation, De Araujo says she would have liked the hospital to have given her information on other health-care facilities in Ontario that could accommodate an MRI appointment and had availability. 

And De Araujo says she also understands that she has the ability to call and advocate for herself, but she worries that people who can't — those who are elderly, don't speak the language or aren't sure how to navigate the system — will fall through the cracks. 

"There's a lot of trust that's been lost [in the healthcare system]," she said. 

"I've come to the kind of conclusion ... I'm really left to my own devices and to sort things out for myself." 

Even though she's been told that her results are clear, she still wants another appointment at Bluewater Health so that she can be certain. As of Thursday, she still hasn't heard when her initial appointment it will be rescheduled for. 

$480M class action filed

A $480-million class action lawsuit against the five hospitals was launched last month. The lawsuit was launched by a Sarnia resident and focuses on the impact that the data breach has had on people. 

Bluewater Health had the most patient information stolen — it said a database with 267,000 patient records was taken. That included information about patient visits and 20,000 of those people also had their social insurance numbers taken. 

Patients visiting Bluewater Health are asked to continue to bring their health card, medical history and medication list to their hospital visits, as staff still don't have access to critical patient information. 

"We remain committed to transparency, and will continue to provide updates on significant steps forward with our system restoration as the process rolls out. Thank you for your ongoing support and understanding," the hospital said. 

Bluewater Health has a patient cybersecurity hotline, 519-346-4604, that is available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

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

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