Dickinson County Memorial Hospital (Photo by Theresa Proudfit / Daily News)

IRON MOUNTAIN – Dealing with a recent cyberattack during a spike in COVID-19 cases, Dickinson County health system officials on Thursday applauded the efforts of staff who have kept the hospital on a level playing field .

“I can’t say enough about the way the team responded”, CEO Chuck Nelson told the hospital’s board at a Zoom meeting. “Everyone did a great job. “

Although the computer system is largely restored after the October 17 cyberattack, the coronavirus remains a threat, he said, adding: “COVID isn’t going away anytime soon. “

According to the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, the virus is linked to 27 deaths in Dickinson County, including 22 since mid-October.

Sue Hadley, director of nursing for DCH, said a COVID-19 committee is meeting daily and making preliminary plans to allow storage of viral vaccines. There are six COVID-19 patients in the hospital, including two in intensive care, she said.

In recent weeks, the hospital has expanded its COVID-19 wing from four beds to 12. The quarantined treatment area was set up this spring with 18 beds, and that capacity remains, Hadley noted.

No patient has been turned away from DCH for lack of space, she said, although some have been transferred to other facilities based on their needs.

Adrienne Chase, chief compliance officer, said 95% of the hospital’s electronic records were fully restored as a result of the cyberattack, which she described as a case of “bad actors” compromise the system.

No ransom was paid. The information was only frozen, not deleted, Chase said.

DCH had insurance coverage to initiate the recovery process and some employees were working around the clock. Hospital operations continued under an emergency plan, using paper records.

Computer functions were at least partially restored within seven days, well ahead of the industry standard, Chase said.

“We are still in the incident,” she said. A forensic report will likely be completed in early December, as the FBI and Michigan Cyber ​​Security Office are part of the investigation. During this time, additional security functions are implemented.

By the end of October, a total of 59 U.S. healthcare providers or systems had been affected by ransomware in 2020, disrupting patient care in up to 510 facilities, according to cybersecurity firm Emsisoft. The United States has experienced a ransomware scourge over the past year, with cities and schools among the targets.

Administrator David Holmes said DCH employees have made “Exceptional work” planning since the start of the pandemic. In recent weeks, he said, staff have also demonstrated “Strength in times of crisis”.

Nelson noted that at least some coverage for lost earnings is included in the cybersecurity insurance plan.

Discussing preparations for a COVID-19 vaccine, Hadley stressed that doses of Pfizer should be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, while Moderna’s candidate is better suited for a regular freezer.

With some improvements, DCH could have enough freezing capacity to serve as a virus distribution hub, she said. The hospital is also committed to prioritizing the administration of vaccines for frontline workers.

The FDA has not yet approved or licensed a vaccine to prevent COVID-19. With emergency approval, Pfizer said it could have enough vaccines for up to 12.5 million people in the United States by the end of the year.

The Dickinson County Hospital Foundation could help pay for the cost of preparing the freezer, said Tamara Juul, executive director of the foundation.

In another action, the advice:

– Heard Nelson report that U.S. Department of Agriculture officials continue to offer “Positive responses” at the hospital’s request for a $ 16.9 million rural development loan, although no final approval was given. A decision could be possible by the end of the year, he said.

– Received an update from Joe Rizzo, Director of Public Relations, on the hospital’s annual Free Thanksgiving Community Meal, which will be provided as a frozen dinner on Wednesday. Today from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. is the last chance to reserve meals for delivery or take-out by calling 906-776-5320. The 20-year tradition of a community meal was under threat this year due to COVID-19, but DCH’s activities committee managed to improvise, Rizzo said.

– County Commissioner Heard Joe Stevens, a Council Liaison Officer, congratulates DCH for overcoming his recent challenges while

reach 101 days of cash on hand, down from just 26 days two years ago.

– Accepted an October report from Administrator Jeff Campbell, President of Finance, but no numbers have yet been released. Campbell admitted a loss for the month, but said some money could be clawed back through the insurance. There was also a one-time charge for an additional payment into the pension plan, he said.

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