NewsLocal News


Suspected cyberattack creating headaches for patients of Palomar Health Medical Group

Former CIA advisor says ransomware attacks can put patients at risk
ransomware hackers
Posted at 7:12 PM, May 28, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Some patients of a local medical group that experienced a “cybersecurity event” say they are unable to pick up prescription refills and worry about their doctors’ limited access to medical records.

“It's obviously very frustrating going to these appointments and not knowing if they're even going to have a record of you having an appointment,” said Eric Goldy, a Valley Center resident.

Goldy said he’s had several appointments with the Palomar Health Medical Group in preparation for a minor surgery he’s having in a few weeks.

But because Palomar’s phones, faxes, and computers are down, there’s been confusion when he goes to see the doctor.

“There have been a few appointments that have been forgotten and/or missed on their end with this and it's been a little bit of a pain.”

Most operations to be restored soon: Company

Other patients have told ABC 10News they can’t get their prescriptions refilled without getting paperwork from a pharmacist and taking it to their doctor to fill out by hand.

Palomar said in an email to clients it found suspicious activity on its computer systems on May 5th “which was later determined to be the result of a cybersecurity event.”

A company spokesperson told ABC 10News it is now about a week away from restoring 80% of operations.

Palomar would not say if it’s been asked to pay a ransom — a common demand during cyberattacks on healthcare companies and hospitals.

Ransomware attacks against hospitals have gone up over 300%, said John Riggi, national advisor for cybersecurity and risk at the American Hospital Association.

Riggi said the attacks are not white-collar financial crimes but rather “threat to life crimes.”

“These attacks cause very significant impact to care delivery. Basically, they cause delay and disruption to health care delivery, especially in urgent care situations such as heart attack, stroke or trauma,” he said.

Riggi, who spent decades working for the FBI and CIA, said when patient records are inaccessible, lives can be put in danger.

Russian hackers targeting U.S. hospitals

“Certain health care records such as drug allergies may not be available,” he said as an example.

Riggi said most attacks on U.S. healthcare he’s seeing are coming from Russia.

“The Russian government refuses to cooperate with US law enforcement on these issues, therefore providing them safe harbor,” he said.

Riggi added ransomware gangs have also been found operating in China, North Korea, and Iran.

A Palomar spokesperson said the company’s hospitals in Poway and Escondido have not been impacted by the outages.

The company has not said if patient information was compromised in recent weeks but said it is investigating what impact, if any, this incident had on the security of its data

“We apologize for any inconvenience this incident may be causing and are working diligently to resolve this issue,” a spokesperson said.