Amidst a cybersecurity crisis, an Ontario resident crosses the border for critical medical care
Jennifer Duguay, a resident of Amherstburg, Ontario, faced an unexpected medical journey as she sought an urgent biopsy in the United States, highlighting the far-reaching impacts of a ransomware attack on local healthcare facilities.
The 52-year-old Duguay experienced a severe rash on her chest, leading her family doctor to suspect inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form. Despite the urgency, her referral to Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH) for a biopsy was hindered by a cyberattack that had crippled the hospital’s computer systems since October 23.
In a statement of disbelief, Duguay recounted, “I was in absolute shock. My doctor referred me for something that’s an emergency, and I’m being told no? I was very upset… and I said, ‘this is my life, what are you talking about?'”
Facing delays and being denied the option to seek care in other regional hospitals like London or Toronto, Duguay felt compelled to look beyond the Canadian border for immediate medical attention. According to CBC News, her quest for healthcare took her to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where she underwent a 3D ultrasound and biopsy.
The results, which arrived within 26 hours, fortunately, revealed that Duguay was negative for inflammatory breast cancer. The cost of these procedures, amounting to $1,365 US, is a bill she plans to submit to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
WRH, along with four other health-care facilities in southwestern Ontario, continues to grapple with the aftermath of the ransomware attack. While the hospital has endeavored to reschedule appointments, the disruption has led to widespread delays and cancellations.
Steve Erwin, a spokesperson for WRH, emphasized their efforts to rebook appointments, stating, “Some have already been completed while others have selected dates into their future due to their own schedule.”
The incident at WRH is not an isolated case. Henry Ford Hospital has reported a significant uptick in calls from Canadians seeking medical services since the ransomware attack. Sam Mossallam, VP and medical director at Henry Ford Health International, noted, “We are able to get patients in within a week… We are more than happy to accommodate and get procedures done.”
However, the Ministry of Health clarified that while they are expediting approvals for funding treatments outside Canada due to the cyberattack, there are specific requirements under the Ontario Health Insurance Act for such funding.
Sara Allin, an associate professor of health policy at the University of Toronto, views Duguay’s ordeal as indicative of a broader issue. “This is a signal of the lack of resilience in our health system,” she said. Allin argues that if one part of the province is unable to accommodate a patient’s care, other areas should have the capacity to take on these patients.
As the healthcare system continues to navigate these challenges, Duguay’s experience serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities in our digital age and the profound effects on individual lives. Though Duguay has expressed her intention to rely on Henry Ford for future breast health concerns, she maintains that Canada’s healthcare system hasn’t entirely failed her but admits to losing faith in its reliability during emergencies. “There should have been ways to get things that were emergencies,” she reflected. “This wasn’t me sitting in the ER with sniffles; this was very serious.”