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Bluewater Health CEO says sorry for concerns over cyberattack

Posted: November 18, 2023

(November 17, 2023)

By: Bryan Bicknell, CTV News

Bluewater Health says it’s sorry for the concerns of patients caused by a cyberattack at the hospital last month.

It was part of a major ransomware attack on hospital groups throughout southwestern Ontario.

“I want to acknowledge how unsettling it must be to our patients to have their personal health information compromised, and I sincerely apologize for the concern this has raised,” said Bluewater Health President and CEO Paula Reaume-Zimmer.

She was speaking at a virtual news conference Friday where she was joined by counterparts from the other affected hospitals.

While the hospitals have provided several updates on the recovery process, it’s the first time the group has spoken publicly together about the breach, and the first time Bluewater Health has answered questions directly.

“We know that some of you want to hear more,” said Reaume-Zimmer. “We also must be careful. This is an active incident. The perpetrators of this attack may still attempt to harm us further.”

Patient records from Bluewater Health dating back more than 30 years were stolen in the cyberattack, affecting 267,000 patients — also stolen were the social insurance numbers (SIN) of 20,000 patients.

Reaume-Zimmer explained that the SINs were collected for workplace insurance claims, as required by law.

She said a call centre has been established to provide patients information on credit monitoring services (519-346-4604).

In the meantime, ongoing patient care continues to be impacted in some areas.

Bluewater Health diagnostic and imaging labs in Sarnia and Petrolia have had to defer non-urgent cases.

Reaume-Zimmer said 3,500 appointments have already been canceled, “causing a significant and growing backlog.”

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, who had been critical of the flow of information, is pleased a representative from Bluewater Health has finally spoken publicly.

“It’s welcome. I think it should have happened earlier. But it has happened. There’s a lot of discomfort in our communities about the accessing of these personal records. I hope now we can move forward and communicate, communicate, communicate. That’s what it’s all about. Even if you don’t have a lot to say sometimes,” said Bradley.

Bradley also wants the federal government to put a team in place to help public institutions deal with data breaches and cyber-attacks.

Reaction is also coming from health care watchdog, the Ontario Health Coalition.

Spokesperson Peter Bergmanis told CTV News public bodies need to re-think using private IT companies to manage personal data, as was the case in this ransomware attack.

“So much confidential material was lost to this nefarious third party. We have to put up much better public firewalls, and certainly have to re-think how we contract out data services too.”

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