Computer outage at hospitals, health centres caused by hardware, software failures

A computer outage that forced staff at hospitals and health-care centres across the province to cancel services and turn patients away on Tuesday has been fixed.

About 140 health systems, including provincial drug database and regional oncology system, were unavailable

Appointments for nearly 100 radiation oncology patients at the Saint John Regional Hospital on Tuesday were cancelled during the computer system failures. (Wikipedia)

A computer outage that forced staff at hospitals and health-care centres across the province to cancel services and turn patients away on Tuesday, was blamed on hardware and software failures in the data storage system.

A team worked throughout the night to bring services back online, Service New Brunswick said, and the computer problems were fixed shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday.

"The team will continue to monitor the environment over the next several hours as normal operations resume," Valerie Kilfoil, the director of communications for the Crown corporation, said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

About 140 computer systems at Horizon and Vitalité health authorities were unavailable during the outage, including provincial systems such as the drug information database, and regional systems such as patient scheduling and oncology treatment systems.

"The loss of computer systems resulted in downtime procedures being implemented in a number of cases where systems were not available or partially impacted," Kilfoil said. 

This meant many health-care workers had to resort to working with paper. 

Unfolding of events

​The problem started around 6 a.m. Tuesday when Service New Brunswick's data centre in Saint John experienced a "partial outage," said Kilfoil.

Just before 9 a.m., the issue quickly escalated and was deemed Service New Brunswick's "highest priority." Hourly teleconference calls were expected to take place with SNB's major incident command centre.

By 10 a.m., hourly teleconference calls were also being held with senior leaders of the health networks.

The technical glitch was discovered in a hardware component around 11 a.m.  

By 8:24 p.m., an application to restart the computer systems began, and they were back online at Saint John Regional Hospital by 11:50 p.m.

Kilfoil said the data storage system is resilient and outages that disrupt services are rare. 

Inconvenience for staff

Thomas Lizotte, regional media relations adviser with Vitalité Health Network, said patient care was not affected by Tuesday's crash.

However, the glitches caused some inconveniences for staff.

"For example, if I wanted to see my pay stub as an employee, I could not as the authority's internal software system was unavailable yesterday," Lizotte said in an emailed statement to CBC News. 

Because of Tuesday's computer problems, Horizon Health had 95 radiation oncology patients in Saint John who needed to be rescheduled and five oncology patients in Miramichi.

Officials said Horizon's hardest-hit services included radiation oncology treatments, which are computer-operated, blood and specimen collection labs, community health centres and clinics.

Nearly 100 radiation oncology patients who had appointments at the Saint John Regional Hospital, for example, had their appointments cancelled, said Brenda Kinney, executive director for the Saint John area, which stretches from Sussex to St. Stephen.

With files from Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon