Cyberattack Sidelines 300 UVM Medical Center Employees | Off Message

Cyberattack Sidelines 300 UVM Medical Center Employees


UVM Medical Center president and chief operating officer Dr. Stephen Leffler - FILE: COLIN FLANDERS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Colin Flanders ©️ Seven Days
  • UVM Medical Center president and chief operating officer Dr. Stephen Leffler
Three hundred employees at the University of Vermont Medical Center cannot perform their normal job duties because of last week's cyberattack, the hospital president said Friday.

While the hospital has found temporary assignments for about 130 of those workers, the rest have been furloughed and must use their combined time off — vacation, sick and personal days — if they want to be paid.

During a phone briefing with reporters Friday, hospital president and chief operating officer Dr. Stephen Leffler implied that the hospital was not paying the furloughed workers because it wanted to incentivize them to accept the temporary gigs.

"Every day, we're having new jobs pop up where we need people to do different things than they would normally do," Leffler said. "We want to make sure that we are getting as many people as possible that are willing to do that."

Friday's announcement comes more than a week after a cyberattack struck the Burlington hospital, downing major computer systems and disrupting services at four hospitals across the University of Vermont Health Network.

The hospital chain’s IT team made some progress restoring systems over the last 24 hours, Leffler said, freeing up clinical patient schedules and allowing computer-based radiation treatments to resume.

But he anticipated it will be “days” until the systems are back up to full speed. With the hospital now nine days into the shutdown, that suggests some displaced employees may ultimately end up out of work for at least two full weeks or more. Leffler said the hospital is offering employees the ability to "borrow" up to 14 days of paid time off against future days worked.
It is unclear exactly which employees have been impacted by the shutdown; a UVM Health Network spokesperson did not immediately respond  to a request for a breakdown. But many work in patient financial services, according to one such employee who spoke with Seven Days on the condition of anonymity.

The employee said computers in her office went down around noon on October 28, the day of the attack. Two hours later, she and her colleagues were told to go home and were informed that their combined time off would cover the remainder of the day.

Since then, the employee said, "It’s been a day-by-day process."

The employee has signed up for some shifts doing temporary jobs, which she said range from "runner" positions — trekking test samples from clinics down to the hospital's lab — to several clerical gigs. But she said the shifts come with a more rigid schedule than what many of her colleagues are accustomed to, making it untenable for some.

She herself has worked less than 20 hours and has had to use combined time off for the rest. While she was not initially not concerned about using her time off, that changed once the shutdown dragged on.

"I started getting really worried about the holidays," she said. When employees voiced concerns about having enough days off, she said, they were told they could take the time off unpaid.

The employee had mixed feelings about the hospital's decision not to pay the displaced workers. On one hand, she said, the main campus needs "so much help" meeting patients' needs. On the other: "It feels kind of like a betrayal and an abandonment."

"I understand it, but it still doesn't feel good and it still doesn't feel fair," she said. 

Worsening matters, she said, is that no one knows how much longer the shutdown might last. "It’s hard to feel like this could be weeks down the road and nobody knows," she said. "It's very stressful."

Leffler told reporters that once the hospital was back up to full speed, it would figure out how, "to the best of our ability, make it so that this wasn't any more harmful to our staff than necessary. "

Asked if that meant the hospital would find a way to make sure impacted employees did not lose their paid time off, Leffler said, "We have to work through that."

If your work or treatment has been affected by the cyberattack on UVM Health Network, please share your experience with Seven Days by filling out this form.

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