Some Maryland medical licenses have been delayed due to a cyber attack that impacted the operations of the Department of Health.
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âSharon,â a newly formed mental health therapist in western Maryland, applied for her state license in November, sending in the required paperwork and payment.
She was eager to launch her new career, especially since she had graduate school bills – and other expenses – piling up and had clients lined up for counseling sessions.
Days after her candidacy, on Dec. 4, the state’s health ministry was hit by what officials will call only an “incident,” widely viewed as a cyberattack. They have provided few details since, citing the need to protect the ongoing investigation. They said the impact on day-to-day operations has been significant.
Sharon (who asked to be identified by first name only) was aware of the attack by frequently checking the Department of Health website. Still, she said it was frustrating to wait weeks for her license to be issued, not knowing when – or if – it would arrive.
“I emptied my entire account in December, thinking I would have a job to go straight to – and I don’t, because I can’t until I got this license,” he said. she declared Monday. “I spent six years in college to get this degree, and it’s like there are no answers.”
Sharon was not financially deprived, as the institutions where she trained in the stock market kept her in a supporting role. But she said the agency’s inability to provide more advice is difficult for people waiting for their licenses to arrive.
âThere are so many people in my boat, not just advice – nursing, occupational therapy, et cetera,â she said. âThey don’t tell the public what’s going on. â¦ No one is going to be patient any longer.
In an online post, the Maryland Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists called the computer outage a âcrisisâ – and unlike the Department of Health, it called the event a âcyber attackâ.
“We only regained access to our database at the end of last week,” the board wrote. âAfter the cyber attack, many of our licensees were unable to renew their licenses because staff were unable to update the background check status in the system. “
Andy Owen, deputy director of communications at the Department of Health, said in an email that independent state boards and commissions license “with their own systems.”
âSince the network security incident, some have been using a mix of paper and technology processes,â he said. âFor example, the Maryland Board of Nursing is developing alternative procedures for applicants for initial RN or licensed practical nurse clearance who are affected by temporary system outages.â
Others have not been so affected, he added, such as psychology counseling and massage counseling, which still process requests through their website.
License holders seeking renewal have not been affected as significantly as new applicants. State officials said that practitioners who requested a renewal within two weeks of the end of the 30-day grace period offered by the state can continue to practice.
Many people like Sharon look to state lawmakers for help.
Senator Cheryl K. Kagan (D-Montgomery), chair of the Senate health subcommittee, said she had a voter “who had a job offer, had literally succeeded, ticked all the boxes, submitted his papers “- only to be remembered by a long delay in obtaining his license.
“She was going to lose access to a job that would help support her family because someone was not doing their administrative work properly and in a timely manner,” Kagan said. âIt’s a problem that must be resolved.
Two legislative committees – one from the Senate, one from the House – will hold a hearing on the Department of Health cyberattack next week.
Although the agency has indicated it must discuss sensitive details behind closed doors, Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said that it was important for the public to have as complete a picture as possible.
“We’re going to try to keep as much of it in public (as we can),” he said. âThere are certain things that they have to answer, explain and justify. â¦ I don’t want to compromise security either.
In a December briefing to legislative leaders, senior agency officials said they needed to shut down their computer systems – and isolate them from the mainframe – to prevent the potential spread of malicious code.
âIf you have a cyberattack of some type, it’s going to cause problems,â Pinsky admitted. âYou can’t control the hacks. â¦ This has created a problem for a lot of people in a lot of health professions.
In a recent update, Tony W. Torain, executive director of the Council of Counselors and Therapists, wrote: âI am happy to report that our IT staff have been able to create a ‘workaround’ so that we can now update the licensees. ‘with background check information. Staff update this information as quickly as possible, but it will take some time to complete the task. “
Sharon received her license by email on Tuesday.