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  • San Diego Union-Tribune

    Suspected cyber attack continues to hobble operations at Palomar Health Medical Group

    By Paul Sisson,

    30 days ago
    The Palomar Medical Center in Escondido (Howard Lipin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

    Nearly three weeks after experiencing a suspected cyberattack and shutting down its computer network, Palomar Health Medical Group continues to operate without fully functional systems, and patients say they are experiencing longer wait times for everything from scheduled appointments to prescription refills.

    Though its hospitals in Escondido and Poway are not affected, Palomar said the attack hit its outpatient facilities, including Graybill medical offices that joined Palomar Health Medical Group in 2019. Palomar has not shared any new details on the attack's cause, or its anticipated timeline for resumption of full operations, with its website still displaying a message acknowledging the attack and its aftermath that was posted shortly after it discovered the situation on May 5.

    A Palomar Health official said this week that no update on the situation is available.

    In the ensuing weeks, many Palomar patients have shared their experiences on social media, especially Facebook, with some saying that previously simple activities such as getting lab work done and prescriptions filled now requires picking up and delivering paperwork in person.

    "If you need lab work done and don't have physical paperwork from your doctor telling them what to do, they will turn you away," said one Facebook poster. "No big for me at this point, because I can't get a doctor's appointment (until) their computers come back on anyway."

    For some, the situation has caused uncertainty about upcoming scheduled medical procedures.

    Eric Goldy of Valley Center said he has a minor cardiac procedure on the surgical calendar next month, but getting all of the pre-surgical visits done without his caregivers having access to his full electronic record has been a real slog, arriving for X-rays, doctor visits and lab work in offices that seem to have a sort of institutional amnesia.

    "Every time that I've been in, I'm explaining to them why I'm there, what it's for," he said. "At this last one, the nurse pretty much straight out said, 'we'll do it, but it might not do you any good, because the files aren't uploaded into any kind of system right now that anybody can see you've had this done."

    Maybe it is because he works with his wife running an animal grooming business that puts him in the calming presence of dogs and cats every day, but Goldy's voice does not carry a tinge of anger when he talks about the health care-related inconveniences he has recently experienced.

    For the most part, he said, his appointments have been honored even if he has had to re-explain what he was being treated for when caregivers are unable to quickly look up his information. Others, he said, have not been so lucky, as he observed on a recent visit.

    "I was sitting there, and a bunch of other patients were checking in and being told that they don't have records of why they were there," Goldy said. "It was kind of a disaster."

    Thus far, Goldy said he still plans to move forward with his procedure next week if Palomar is able to do the work.

    "I'm just hoping that if things get fixed within a week or two, maybe they can upload those visits into the system, and everything will be OK," he said. "It's not looking promising, but I don't want to throw away all that copay money."

    That said, he adds, he has zero personal animosity toward the Palomar workers, from secretaries to nurses, he has encountered during the ordeal. All, he said, are clearly working very hard to keep the system running in difficult and frustrating circumstances. As a former dispatcher for a concrete and asphalt company, he knows what it's like to be the focus of frustration.

    "I'm trying always to be nice with them, even when it's annoying, and I'm told that they don't have my appointment and it needs to be scheduled again," he said. "It's not going to do any good to yell at them.

    "You know, I know what that's like, being at a job where you're getting yelled at for something that's well beyond your control."

    This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune .

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