Palomar Health Medical Group patient says cyber incident left her without critical medication

Organization refuses to answer questions from Team 10
Posted at 8:21 PM, Jun 18, 2024

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) — A local medical group continues to be paralyzed by a suspected cyberattack more than six weeks after critical computers first went down leaving patients unable to easily get prescriptions and book doctor’s appointments.

Team 10 has heard from several patients of the Palomar Health Medical Group who say they can’t get critical prescriptions refilled or access their medical records so they can get their medication from another provider.

“I have two pills left. I'm thinking what the heck am I gonna do?” said Patricia Ryan, a Rancho Bernardo resident, who takes medication for high blood pressure.

Ryan told Team 10 she hasn’t been able to get a prescription refill from Palomar or see her cardiologist despite going in person to try.

A suspected cyberattack discovered on May 5th has left the organization’s phones, computer systems and patient records portal down.

Ryan said with just two pills left, she ended up seeing a doctor at Scripps Health, who was able to get the medication she needed.

“I was afraid that I'd have a heart attack. I was afraid that my blood pressure would get so out of control that I'd end up having to go in an ambulance to the emergency room to avoid a heart attack,” she said.

Change in management

Team 10 has been trying for weeks to get answers from Palomar through the third-party public relations company the organization has hired.

We’ve asked what information may have been stolen, if a ransom demand is being made and what patients should do who are unable to get their medications despite going in person for refills.

A spokesperson with the InnoVision Marketing Group said the company would follow up with an update when they have one from Palomar.

The medical group has not answered our questions.

Team 10 has learned the Palomar Health Medical Group has changed its management.

Russell Riehl, who is currently listed as vice president of operations for the organization on its website, is now acting as interim CEO.

InnoVision spokesperson Bianca Kasawdish said the change in management is going to be shared in an upcoming news release. She did not provide further details.

Ryan, who teaches a business leadership course, said in her opinion Palomar has “failed miserably” in handling the cyber incident. She wants the organization to release specific information on what happened and wants to know if her medical records were compromised.

Patient info compromised in the past

“The first thing somebody wants to know in a crisis is ‘Is it gonna be okay? Are you gonna reassure me?’ What steps are you taking in order to make this okay?’”

Team 10 has confirmed this isn’t the first time Palomar has had a cyber incident.

Breach notices sent to the state show that in 2014 two flash drives were stolen from an employee’s vehicle. The USB keys had sensitive patient information.

In 2017, a Palomar employee mistakenly sent an email with patient information to an unauthorized person, according to a notice filed with the state.

Last year, Palomar reported to the state that its third-party vendor’s computer systems were accessed improperly by an unauthorized person. Patient names, addresses, social security numbers and health insurance information were compromised.

In a June 12th email to patients, Riehl said Palomar’s internet remained down and doctors had limited access to medical records.

Palomar says improvements coming

“While this may cause some delays compared to normal operations, our team is committed to delivering the best care possible under these circumstances. We continue to receive lab results, radiology reports, referrals to specialists and patient messages via secure inbound fax, and an outside call center.”

Riehl said Palomar anticipates improvements this week beginning with internet access and patient records being restored.

“This will improve the ability to contact your provider’s office, schedule appointments, get prescription refills electronically managed, and allow providers to have full electronic access to lab and radiology reports right in the electronic system again,” he said.

But Ryan told Team 10 it’s too late for her.

Even though she loved the care she got from her Palomar cardiologist, she said she’s decided to leave the organization and switch all her care to Scripps.

“I've had enough.”