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Network outage that affected some health-care services in Alberta is resolved: AHS

CALGARY — Doctors and staff at hospitals across Alberta went back to using paper charts, whiteboards and phone calls to communicate with each other during a network outage on Monday, said a senior official with Alberta Health Services.

The agency, which delivers health care in Alberta, said in an update late Monday that the outage was resolved and that a third-party review will begin shortly to determine the root cause.

“There is no indication that the technical outage was caused by hacking or any form of cyber-attack,” the statement said.

It said services were being restored, including electronic medical records and community and hospital lab services. It also said it was contacting patients to rebook surgeries that were postponed, although it noted urgent and emergency surgeries continued throughout the day.

Early Monday, AHS said emergency medical dispatch was functioning with backup procedures and calls to 911 were not affected, but some elective, non-urgent surgeries were postponed as a precaution.

Dr. Sid Viner, vice-president and medical director for clinical operations with AHS, said the computer systems were down in hospitals and other health-care settings.

“We are having to use paper, whiteboards, phones more than we would in our day-to-day clinical practice,” he said Monday during an unrelated news conference in Calgary. “It’s definitely impacting workflows.

“We have downtime procedures that are well established and people know what to do in these situations — all of that is being done.”

The agency said later in the day that the outage was being resolved.

“Services are carefully being restored with priority being given to critical patient care areas, such as emergency departments,” said a statement.

It said the Health Link 811 line, which provides health advice and information was fully available and wait times were back to normal after earlier delays.

Health Minister Jason Copping said earlier Monday that the outage was believed to be an internal issue.

“They are working hard to fix it,” he said.

Some delays were being reported Monday in dispatch for ambulances, which was the focus of an independent review released last week.

The report by the Health Quality Council of Alberta found that staff and ambulance shortages, as well as communication issues, led to a delayed response in the case of an 86-year old woman who died after a dog attack.

Copping said improving 911 response times is a priority for Alberta Health Services.

“We are investing heavily on that,” he said. “Once we get to the bottom of what happened here, (we need) to be able to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“The team is working very hard to reduce any impacts whether it be 911, 811, or on providing the service because it’s a service that Albertans need.”

Dr. John Cowell, the official administrator of Alberta Health Services, said earlier Monday there was no higher priority than to get the system fixed as soon as possible.

“It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “This is an unusual, unique event. As I understand, it has never happened like this before.

“We need to figure this out fast and make darned sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2023.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press