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Computer update error shuts down VA hospital in Washington

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | March 09, 2022
Cyber Security Health IT
A computer update error may have compromised the EHR records of over 200 patients at a VA hospital in Washington state
A computer update last week brought operations at Spokane’s Veterans Affairs Hospital in Washington state to a halt after corrupting and potentially leaving the information in more than 200 patient records unusable.

In an email sent last Thursday morning, Robert Fischer, director of the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center ordered employees to stop using the EHR system and to “assume all electronic patient data is corrupted or inaccurate,” according to The Spokesman-Review.

He told staff to instead switch to downtime procedures by writing patient information by hand and entering it into the system when it came back online. Services would continue for patients already admitted to the hospital, he added, but that “until further notice,” no new patients were to be admitted.

“It is understood healthcare delivery, until these problems are rectified, will be very limited. Empathy and an apologetic approach to patients will be very important,” he wrote.

The system went down at 10:30 a.m. Thursday and was restored at 7 a.m. Friday, reported The Spokesman-Review in a follow-up piece.

The update was in response to problems plaguing the system that have delayed care, posed risks to patient safety and made work life challenging for VA employees at the hospital and its outpatient clinics in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Wenatchee and Libby, Montana.

Developed by Cerner Corp. for $10 billion, the system has experienced multiple outages since its launch in October 2020 at Mann-Grandstaff. But the most current incident was “unlike previous episodes insofar as all data” in multiple software programs “may be corrupted,” according to Fischer.

He advised healthcare workers to “make every effort to limit” ordering medications, lab tests and imaging studies and said that all mailing, including prescriptions for veterans, was suspended.

As a result of the incident, many patient appointments will need to be rescheduled, and employees may not have access to schedules in the system. Employees were told to stay off the system Thursday and Friday, and that the hospital’s chief of surgery would determine if and when it was safe to resume surgeries.

Employees have since been allowed to again admit patients and continue with scheduled surgeries, albeit with an “extra degree of caution," and to report any ongoing problems to technical support staff using an internal chat.

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