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Cyberattack on Local Ambulance Network Delays Response Times

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Ambulance | Image by Shutterstock

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After a cyberattack on the computer network utilized by MedStar Mobile Healthcare, ambulance wait times were as long as an hour in some cases last week in more than a dozen cities in Tarrant County.

The attack, which was discovered on October 20, left computer systems disconnected. Dispatchers were forced to resort to using radios, maps, and pen and paper in order to keep track of paramedics and ambulances.

By Thursday, MedStar said that operations had largely returned to normal. They still had some residual problems, which were to be expected following a cyberattack.

Call information shared with CBS 11 showed that someone was hit by a car on the north side of Fort Worth and half an hour after the accident, firefighters were told that an ambulance was still five to seven minutes away.

The same day on the east side of Fort Worth, a fire crew reportedly waited an hour with a sick individual. On the west side, firefighters performed CPR on a 69-year-old man. The crew had to wait at least 25 minutes for an ambulance.

MedStar reportedly logged and clinically analyzed cases with unusually long waits. They determined that no patient outcomes had any significant changes due to a delayed response, as compared with a typical wait time.

The agency credited the process of sending multiple first-responder agencies to a call, meaning that firefighters who are trained as EMTs were able to keep patients stable while waiting for an ambulance.

“The system is designed that way as a safeguard so if one of the agencies is going to be delayed, there’s low chance care is going to be delayed,” said Matt Zavadsky with MedStar.

Firefighters were not able to take the patients to the hospital themselves because MedStar is contracted to transport patients to a hospital.

“There were times where our staff, dispatch, our firefighters, were unsure in communication if an ambulance was on the way, or far away,” said K.T. Freeman, the fire chief for Burleson. “There was confusion with communication and ascertaining the status of MedStar’s response down here.”

The City of Burleson increased staffing in its own dispatch center to make sure it could stay in constant communication. Burleson also offered to have staff help MedStar if needed.

During the event, MedStar reported that, at times, it had doubled the number of staff in its communications center to support documentation and radio calls. Delays were also impacted by a 23% upsurge in call volume the day of the cyberattack as compared to the previous week, said Zavadsky.

Since the cyberattack is currently an active investigation with federal authorities involved, Zavadksy said that he was unable to give much detail about the actual attack and any potentially comprised information or data.

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