GNYHA Cyber Learning Series Kickoff Includes New Toolkit, Panel Discussion

July 1, 2024

GNYHA hosted a Cyber Learning Series kickoff event last week during which information technology (IT) leaders and senior emergency preparedness staff from member hospitals discussed their experiences with cyber disruptions. GNYHA’s Emergency Preparedness team also introduced our new Cyber Disruption Toolkit, which will help members mitigate the impact of a cyber disruption on clinical and non-clinical departments.

GNYHA’s Andrew Dahl, Vice President, Emergency Preparedness and Response, hosted the panel discussion. The participants included Wyckoff Heights Medical Center’s Jebashini Jesurasa, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, and Eric Cardamone, Director, Emergency Medical Services, and Richmond University Medical Center’s Joseph B. Cuozzo, Vice President, IT, and Trientina Campbell, Environmental Health & Safety Officer/Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.

When a cyber disruption occurs, the targeted hospital’s initial steps should include gathering the right personnel to brainstorm and activating its incident command system, panelists said. When a cyber disruption hit Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, “(w)e got everybody to the table, and we were meeting three times a day,” said Mr. Cardamone. “We weren’t thinking about diversion, it was how to pivot. That was a huge help to all of us in continuing to provide the best possible patient care.”

Cyber disruptions inherently pose unique challenges because they can occur when a hospital is in an especially vulnerable position. Ms. Campbell noted that Richmond University Medical Center recently opened a new 55-bed emergency department and hired additional staff—mostly new nurses who were just entering the workforce—when the cyber disruption struck. “We had to explain to them how to do downtime procedures on paper.”

During a cyber event it is critical to effectively communicate updates to hospital staff—but also to buffer the IT team from nonurgent staff needs. “It was hard for clinical staff to understand there would be an extended period of downtime,” said Ms. Jesurasa. “When we told them it would be days (as opposed to hours), it was hard for them to accept.” It wasn’t long before the hospital “sent out mass e-mails to say, if it is not critical, you can’t go to IT; let them restore us back to an operational position.”

To help prepare for the next potential cyber disruption, Richmond University Medical Center is using tabletop exercises—one operational, focusing on clinical and business departments, the other technical, diving into the intricacies of the hospital’s IT systems—according to Mr. Cuozzo.

GNYHA’s Nicole Ziogas, Project Manager, Emergency Preparedness, reviewed the Cyber Disruption Toolkit. She said the resource will help hospitals manage the consequences of an attack while continuing operations and patient care throughout downtime. Ms. Ziogas presented examples of operational templates in the toolkit that can be implemented directly into a hospital’s emergency operations plan. She also highlighted several special considerations for hospitals to consider as they prepare for a potential cyber disruption. The toolkit’s templates, actions, and considerations are not meant to supplement already existing emergency operations plans and can be modified based on an organization’s size and structure. Ms. Ziogas added that upcoming Cyber Learning Series events, which will occur over the next year, will feature experts from the field to address different aspects of cyber disruptions, including exercises and trainings, and clinical downtime.