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Virus shuts down ECMC's computers; FBI, State Police are investigating

A virus has shut down the entire computer system at Erie County Medical Center and its Long-Term Care at Terrace View facility since between 2:30 and 3 a.m. Sunday.

The FBI and State Police are investigating the incident, a hospital official said Monday.

Shortly after discovering the virus, the hospital reached out to State Police cybersecurity investigators, who brought in their counterparts from the FBI.

The hospital also has its own technology staff plus GreyCastle Security, a private consultant, working on the problem.

The hospital said all patient records, financial data and human resources records are backed up, so officials are not concerned about losing that data.

But all patient admissions, prescription writing, and other such activities are being done manually while ECMC's information technology department tries to bring their computer systems back online.

"The hospital has a well-planned and prescribed back-up process in event of a situation like this," ECMC spokesman Peter Cutler said Monday evening. "What it has done is everything's more labor-intensive because everything has to be done manually."

Cutler noted that because the use of electronic medical records is relatively new, most of the staff is well-versed in collecting patient information in writing.

He said that although the shutdown affects desktop computers and access to the hospital's data systems, laptops were distributed so that staff could do some of its work and communication via wi-fi. He said that no appointments or procedures have been postponed, but "the longer the system is down, the greater strain it puts on the process."

Cutler would not estimate how long it would take to restore the computer system.

"The assessment and investigation is ongoing," he noted. "We are hopeful it will be just a matter of days before restoration. It's a complicated process."

Dan Meyer, a spokesman for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, noted that the computer problem was limited to hospital operations. Since the county does not operate the hospital, the problem did not affect any of the county's computer systems, he said.

Asked whether this was a case of "ransomware" – in which hackers shut down a computer system until the owner pays a ransom – Cutler said he couldn't comment. He also would not comment when asked whether the hospital would be prepared to pay hackers if this did prove to be a case of ransomware.

In a prepared statement released Sunday, the hospital said:

"ECMC's computer system today went down.  The hospital's IT team immediately commenced a thorough assessment and analysis of the situation. Our priority is maintaining patient safety and quality services. All hospital operations are continuing as normal and have not been interrupted. The hospital's email system, however, is not functioning, so all inquiries should be directed to 898-5500."

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