St. Margaret's Health in Spring Valley, Illinois, will permanently shut down as a result of a debilitating cyberattack, making it the first hospital to publicly attribute its closure to criminal hackers. The hospital's parent organization, SMP Health, had previously announced plans to close due to various factors, including the cyberattack, staff shortages, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Ransomware attacks have plagued the U.S. healthcare sector since 2016, and St. Margaret's Health is the latest victim. Such attacks immobilize computer systems and demand extortion payments. According to cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, American healthcare facilities have experienced around 300 documented attacks each year since 2020. The closure of St. Margaret's Health will force Spring Valley residents to travel significantly longer distances for emergency room and obstetrics services.
The impact on the community is substantial, with residents expressing concerns about potential medical complications and delays in critical healthcare access. Ransomware attacks cripple hospitals, leading to a reliance on manual record-keeping and disrupting essential operations. Studies have shown a correlation between hospital downtime caused by these attacks and increased mortality rates. SMP Health faced a ransomware attack in 2021, which paralyzed its ability to submit claims to insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid for months. The financial consequences were severe, exacerbating the hospital's challenges. Since 2005, 99 rural hospitals in the U.S. have permanently closed, often in economically disadvantaged areas with higher unemployment rates. Steve Gwizdala, Vice President of Healthcare at ForgeRock, weighed in on the closure and how other healthcare organizations can protect themselves from devastating ransomware attacks:
“News of St. Margaret’s Health linking its closure to a ransomware attack - and being the first healthcare facility to do so - is unfortunate yet not surprising. Healthcare continues to be one of the most attractive targets for cyberattackers, and the number of breaches affecting the industry is increasing each year.”
Vigilance and new ways of enhancing cybersecurity measures will be crucial to healthcare organizations and businesses responsible for protecting the personal information of consumers stored online – across the entire supply chain. The traditional password and username approach is no longer enough to properly protect such valuable information and keep healthcare organizations in business. Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA), passwordless authentication, and zero-trust architecture ensures users experience a high level of security while mitigating risk and reducing opportunities for malicious actors to capture patient medical records.”
Spring Valley's closure underscores the tragic trend of businesses and now hospitals being driven to bankruptcy by ransomware attacks. Errol Weiss, Chief Security Officer for Health-ISAC, lamented the statistics and emphasized the devastating impact on organizations unable to restore systems or afford ransom payments.
SMP Health's other hospital in Peru, Illinois, suspended operations earlier this year. OSF, a Catholic healthcare organization, has agreed to purchase the Peru hospital and restart services, but a specific timeline for the resumption of care remains uncertain. In the meantime, Spring Valley residents face the challenge of longer commutes for emergency and obstetrics services.