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3 Hospitals in Alabama Forced to Turn Patients Away After Ransomware Attack

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Three hospitals in Alabama remained closed Wednesday “to all but the most critical new patients” due to a ransomware attack that disrupted medical care.

“A criminal is limiting our ability to use our computer systems in exchange for an as-yet unknown payment,” the DCH Health System said in a statement on Tuesday. “Our hospitals have implemented our emergency procedures to ensure safe and efficient operations in the event technology dependent on computers is not available.”

The system’s three hospitals — DCH Regional Medical Center, Northport Medical Center and Fayette Medical Center — will proceed with planned elective procedures and surgeries on Wednesday and will continue caring for any patients who were already staying in the hospitals.

But while federal authorities work to restore DCH computer systems, any non-critical new patients will be sent to other hospitals, and local ambulances have been directed to take patients to other facilities instead, the statement said.

The DCH Health System did not provide more information about who might be behind the ransomware attack.

But a report released Tuesday by the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft suggests such threats are becoming more common, and healthcare facilities are a popular target. In the first nine months of 2019, at least 621 government entities, healthcare service providers, school districts and colleges were affected by ransomware, the report found.

“The attacks have caused massive disruption: municipal and emergency services have been interrupted, medical practices have permanently closed, ER patients have been diverted, property transactions halted, the collection of property taxes and water bills delayed, medical procedures canceled, schools closed and data lost,” the report stated.

In June, for example, a ransomware attack on Park DuValle Community Health Center in Kentucky prevented healthcare providers from accessing patient medical records and insurance information, and the center ultimately agreed to pay a $70,000 ransom.

Last month, Campbell County Health in Wyoming was hit by “a very sophisticated criminal attack” that continues to disrupt medical care. In an updated statement on Tuesday, the health system said patient medical records, appointments and medications are still not available.

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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com