Nova Scotia

Home visits could be delayed after 'sophisticated' computer virus strikes Northwood

A “sophisticated” computer virus at Northwood, which provides home care to about 1,800 people and operates two long-term care facilities in Bedford and Halifax, means email, payroll and home-care scheduling systems are now offline.

Scheduling, payroll and email systems affected, says president and CEO

Janet Simm, president and CEO of Northwood, says staff found the virus on Dec. 21 and shut down all affected systems the same day so it wouldn't spread. (CBC)

Home-care visits by staff at Nova Scotia's largest continuing-care organization could be delayed after a "sophisticated" computer virus was detected days before Christmas.

Information technology staff at Northwood, which provides home care to about 1,800 people and operates two long-term care facilities in Bedford and Halifax, noticed something unusual in their computer backup system on Dec. 21.

As a precaution, staff shut off the internet at the two facilities the same day, which means email, payroll and home-care scheduling systems are now offline, said president and CEO Janet Simm.

Scheduling staff to visit clients in their homes is now being done on paper.

The organization released a statement on Friday about the breach after hearing concerns from both staff and families, Simm said.

She said at this point there's no evidence that people's personal information has been compromised, but staff are working with police and cybersecurity experts to figure out exactly what happened.

"As you can imagine, over the holiday season, it's very untimely in terms of getting access to some of the experts, so we're hoping over the next couple of days further information will unfold," Simm said.

Scheduling 'taking much longer'

She said she didn't know how many home visits might have been missed or delayed, but encouraged families to call if a staff member doesn't show up on time.

"Things are just taking much longer," Simm said. "We do have access to information, but our home-support workers, for example, don't work out of an office. They're working in the field, so getting them the information they need on a timely basis has been a real challenge for us."

The organization isn't accepting new home-care clients until the problem is solved, she added.

For now, the roughly 600 residents at Northwood's two facilities can't access Wi-Fi. For some patients, this means that special Wi-Fi enabled devices that allow them to turn on lights, activate fans, adjust their beds and channel surf are out of commission.

Unclear when systems will be up and running again

Simm said she doesn't know when systems will be back online.

She said Northwood has notified the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Department of Health and Wellness about the potential breach.

"At this point in time there's no evidence that there has actually been access to personal-care information ... but if we do determine that access has been made to that, we have protocols to follow and we are in line with the province's protocol on that," she said.

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