‘Harder than the pandemic by far’: Hospital president testifies before Congress on cyberattack

Giles Bruce

A hospital leader told Congress that a 2021 ransomware attack his health system experienced was “harder than the pandemic, by far.”

Stephen Leffler, MD, president and COO of Burlington-based University of Vermont Medical Center, testified Sept. 27 before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability with other cybersecurity experts and cyberattack victims.

The ransomware attack cost the health system $65 million and shut down its EHR for 28 days, he told Congress. “Many of our young doctors had never written paper orders,” he said in comments transcribed by CSPAN. “We had to go back and teach them how to do that.”

The incident also interrupted UVM Medical Center’s internet, so clinics didn’t even know which patients would be showing up that Monday morning. “We went to Best Buy and bought every walkie-talkie they had,” Dr. Leffler said.

The health system’s clinical leaders brought in additional staff and met sometimes twice a day, seven days a week, to determine what care would be delayed and what could be transferred to other academic medical centers out of state (UVM is the only one in Vermont). “Over the course of that month, we delivered hundreds of babies, did trauma certainly. We did multiple other cancer staging operations, all safely, high quality, on paper,” Dr. Leffler said.

“It affected every single part of our function, everything that we do,” he testified. “I’ve been an emergency medicine doctor for 30 years. I’ve been a hospital president for four years. The cyberattack was much harder than the pandemic, by far.”