Health care system says computer server at Northern Light Health Center was breached, but patient data was not compromised

Health care system says computer server at Northern Light Health Center was breached, but patient data was not compromised

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Mercy Hospital Portland, part of the Northern Lights Health Network, photographed in December 2021. Gregory Rec/Contributing Photographer, Archives

Maine health care network Northern Light Health discovered over the weekend that multiple computer servers in its system had been breached, but said no patient information was at risk.

Northern Lights said in a news release that it discovered the situation Saturday afternoon and notified state and federal authorities.

“While none of the affected servers contain patient information, we have decided to take the patient records system offline and use downtime procedures while we investigate this incident and any required repairs,” Northern Light Health said in its news release.

“Patient care will not be affected by this shutdown and all Northern Light Health hospitals remain open,” the release continued. “All Northern Lights Healthcare facilities and staff receive network outage training to ensure patient care is not disrupted by system outages.”

Suzanne Spruce, Northern Light Health’s senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer, told NewsCenter Maine that implementing outage procedures simply means the network switches from using digital records to printing them.

The Northern Lights Health Network includes 10 hospitals and stretches from Portland to Presque Isle and from Blue Mountain to Greenville, according to its website. Mercy Hospital on Front River Boulevard in Portland is part of the health care network, as is Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and several rural hospitals in northern Maine.

Spruce told NEWS CENTER Maine that it only took “a few hours” from the time the server was discovered to be compromised to when downtime mode was activated.

“While we investigate this incident, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to shut down all sensitive information systems, including our electronic health records,” Northern Light Health said in a statement.

When contacted Sunday evening, Spruce said she could not estimate how long the patient records system would remain offline. She also said that “no demands or threats were made” regardless of the hackers’ access to the computer servers.

Northern Lights Health did not elaborate on the types of information that could be targeted. Spruce said the freeze on digital records affects all 10 Maine hospitals.

Spruce said in an email Sunday evening that the information technology team worked around the clock over the weekend and conducted a thorough review of the Northern Lights servers. The review is expected to continue Sunday night into Monday, with electronic medical records expected to be back online sometime Monday.

“This is a difficult job and we remain focused on patient safety and privacy,” Spruce wrote.

Northern Lights Health Center advises patients that any appointments previously scheduled for Monday will not be changed unless they are contacted directly. But the system warns that call volumes are expected to be higher than normal on Monday, so reaching hospitals by phone may be more difficult than usual.

The latest information on the situation can be found on the system’s website, Northern Lights said information will continue to be shared there until all systems are restored.

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