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More hospitals hit by ransomware as feds warn about cyberattacks

A recent wave of ransomware attacks has infected more hospitals than previously known, including a University of Vermont network with locations in New York and Vermont.

The University of Vermont Health Network is analyzing what appears to be a ransomware attack from the same cybercrime gang that has infected at least three other hospitals in recent weeks, according to two sources familiar with the investigation who weren’t authorized to comment about it before it is complete.

Several federal agencies warned Wednesday of “an increased and imminent cybercrime threat” to the country’s health care providers, particularly from a gang that uses a strand of ransomware called Ryuk. The U.S. has repeatedly hit record highs for daily confirmed coronavirus infections.

The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, sent an updated alert Thursday night with new technical information, adding that they have “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.”

As many as 20 medical facilities have been hit by the recent wave of ransomware, said a person with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The figure includes multiple facilities within the same hospital chain.

Three other hospital chains have recently confirmed cyberattacks, believed to be ransomware, by the same gang: the Sky Lakes Medical Center, with 21 locations in Oregon; Dickinson County Healthcare System in Michigan and Wisconsin; and the St. Lawrence Health System in northern New York. It was not clear how much of their systems or how many locations had been hit by the ransomware.

Tom Hottman, a spokesperson for Sky Lakes Medical Center, confirmed that the company had been infected with Ryuk and said its computers were inaccessible, halting radiation treatments for cancer patients.

“We’re still able to meet the care needs for most patients using work-around procedures, i.e. paper rather than computerized records. It’s slower but seems to work,” he said in an email.

Joe Rizzo, a spokesperson for Dickinson, said in an email that their hospitals and clinics are using paper copies for some services because computer systems are down.

Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and other groups had been in communication about the St. Lawrence attack.

Details about a major wave of ransomware attacks on U.S. hospitals began to emerge at the end of September when computer systems for Universal Health Services, one of the biggest hospital chains in the country, were hit, forcing some doctors and nurses to use pen and paper to file patient information. Jane Crawford, the chain’s director of public relations, said in an email at the beginning of October that no one had died because of the attack.

Ransomware attacks often gain access to secure systems and then encrypt files. The people behind the attacks then demand money to decrypt the files.

Ryuk is transmitted through

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CVS, Walgreens to distribute Covid vaccines to nursing homes, feds say

The two drugstore chains are the best placed to send out mobile units to vaccinate seniors and other vulnerable people on site, Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Health and Human Services Department, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

“This is a completely voluntary program on the part of every nursing home. This is an opt-in program,” Mango said.

It will be up to the drugstore chains to figure out how to deliver the vaccines, including cold storage requirements and personal protective equipment. The retailers also will have to determine how to collect fees from Medicare, Medicaid or private insurers for administering the vaccines, which must be provided to people free of charge, officials said.

Mango said the Operation Warp Speed team did not have any idea of how many nursing homes would choose to use the retailers. “We are not imposing our solution on anyone,” he said.

Operation Warp Speed is the federal government’s program to rapidly develop a coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director of infectious diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that a third of coronavirus deaths in the US have been among residents of long-term care facilities.

“We believe that this plan will be the quickest and easiest way to provide vaccines to long-term care facility residents,” Butler told reporters.

Johnson & Johnson pauses Covid-19 vaccine trial after 'unexplained illness'

Staff and residents of long-term care facilities are expected to be among the first to get vaccinated.

“We fully anticipate that both Pfizer and Moderna will have data of both safety and effectiveness of their vaccines very shortly. We are very encouraged because their clinical trials are going extraordinarily well,” Mango said.

“Part of the reason we are doing this is within 24 to 48 hours of the time the emergency use authorization is authorized, we expect to be putting needles into people’s arms,” Mango said. “This is pre-staging for what we believe will be rapid deployment.”

The CDC had asked states to submit plans for vaccine distribution by Friday. Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Sharpsten, director of supply and distribution for Operation Warp Speed, said this plan would help provide centralized management and “ensure there is comprehensive vaccine coverage for the American people.”

“Our goal is to broaden vaccine coverage,” Sharpsten said on the call.

Earlier Friday, President Trump said seniors would be the first to get any vaccine.

“Seniors will be the first in line for the vaccine. And we will soon be ending this pandemic,” Trump said during a visit to Ft. Myers, Florida.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in an open letter posted Friday he thought his company would know whether the vaccine it is testing protect against Covid-19 by the third week of November. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel has made similar predictions for his company’s vaccine.

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Feds unveil plan to get coronavirus shots to nursing homes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal health officials on Friday unveiled a plan to get approved coronavirus vaccines to nursing home residents free of cost, with the aid of two national pharmacy chains.

No vaccine has yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the distribution program is contingent on that happening first.

Under the plan, trained staff from CVS and Walgreens will deliver the vaccines to each nursing home and administer shots. Assisted-living facilities and residential group homes can also participate in the voluntary program. Nursing home staffers can be vaccinated too, if they have not already received their shots. Needles, syringes and other necessary equipment will be included.

The idea is to give hard-pressed states an all-inclusive system for vaccinating their most vulnerable residents, said Paul Mango, a senior policy adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. “We are trying to eliminate all potential barriers to getting folks safe and effective vaccines,” Mango said.

People in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities account for less than 1% of the U.S. population, but they account for about 40% of the deaths from COVID-19, with more than 83,600 fatalities logged by the COVID Tracking Project.

The Trump administration’s initial attempts to promote coronavirus testing in nursing homes and to ensure sufficient supplies of protective gear were hampered by missteps and led to widespread complaints from nursing home operators and advocates for older people. The vaccine program seems designed to prevent a repeat at a time when President Donald Trump is battling to hang on to support from older voters.

Vaccines will be on their way to nursing homes within 24 to 48 hours after the FDA approves their use, Mango said.


The effort is taking place under the auspices of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed effort to quickly produce and distribute hundreds of millions of doses of approved vaccines, enough for every American.

Mango said he anticipates that if a vaccine is approved this year, initial supplies would be limited. Availability will improve markedly in the first three months of 2021, he said.

HHS is fielding an online survey for nursing homes to assess their interest in the program, but the allocation of vaccines will be done through state and territorial governments.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities will not be charged for the program. CVS and Walgreens will be reimbursed for administering the shots at standard Medicare rates, officials said.

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