Universal Health says corporate network remains offline

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hospital chain Universal Health Services’ network remains offline on Tuesday, two days after the company fell prey to an apparent ransomware attack, it told employees via text.

On Monday the operator of about 400 hospitals and care centers across the United States and the United Kingdom, announced in a statement it was dealing with an “IT security issue.”

UHS has provided no details, but experts said the outage had the hallmarks of ransomware, a breed of malicious software that locks users out of their computers until a digital payment is made.

The text message seen by Reuters said “the corporate network remains offline” and provided no timetable for when computer access would be restored. It instructed some employees to “please continue to work remotely using alternative communication channels.”

At UHS’ Cedar Hills Hospital outside Portland, Oregon, the outage means that new prescriptions are not being issued and psychiatric patients are having trouble getting their medication on time, one employee said, noting that some were agitated and shouting at nurses.

“In a psych ward it’s very problematic,” the employee said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Psychiatric patients need their medication. It causes a lot of tension and stress.”

UHS spokeswoman Jane Crawford said in an email that Cedar Hills Hospital was using “a downtime protocol that allows us to manage medications manually” and that prescriptions for discharged patients were being written down on paper.

“We are confident that we can and will continue to meet the needs of our patients,” she said.

In a statement released earlier Tuesday, Crawford acknowledged that “this matter may result in temporary disruptions to certain aspects of our clinical and financial operations.”

She forwarded the emails to Reuters using her personal email address; emails sent to her professional account were returned as undeliverable.

Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Richard Chang and Alistair Bell

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