Patients’ medical records ‘were never in danger’ in attempted hack, company says

THE BRONX — In April, PIX11 News uncovered a computer issue at Essen Medical Group in the Bronx that kept patients waiting for days for the medication they rely on.

Carmen Rivera, an Essen Medical Patient, had to go a week without the ulcer and pain medication she uses daily.

“I feel frustrated. I feel angry,” Rivera said.

Now, a former employee is coming forward to say the computer outage at Essen Medical was caused by hackers and patients’ sensitive medical information may have been exposed.

Jennifer Velazquez worked for Essen Medical for a year and a half.

"The employees were informed that the computers were hacked into," she told PIX11 News.

Velazquez said patients were never informed of the issue.

PIX11 reached out the the medical director for Essen several times Monday but our phone calls and emails have not been returned by the time of publication.

On Thursday, the company released this statement:

"Essen Medical Associates, P.C. is pleased to report that the security measures it has taken to protect the personal information of patient medical records has proven effective after an attempted computer attack.

"On April 21, 2018 Essen identified that several of its servers had become infected by malware. Essen promptly responded with the assistance of a cybersecurity firm with expertise in addressing malware. There was a very brief disruption in the medical group’s computer operations, however, Essen’s patient medical records were never in any danger of a breach due to the security framework that Essen had established over the last several years.

""The security of our patient records is one of our highest priorities," said Dr. Sumir Sahgal, founder and long-time medical director for Essen, “for this reason, we invested significant resources in building an effective infrastructure with stringent security standards. As an added measure we took proactive security measures and are delighted that those steps paid off in protecting the records of our patients and employees.” Dr. Sahgal, an internal medicine physician who has won awards for innovation in healthcare delivery, pointed out that being proactive is important both in patient health and information security. “Just as we always preach prevention to our patients,” he said, “we also believe prevention is the key in protecting patient records.”

"Essen Medical Associates and related companies (“Essen Health Care”) have been serving some of the most vulnerable patients in the South Bronx since 1999. Essen Health has now expanded its services to include house calls, urgent care, as well as medical care at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals. The organization remains dedicated to protecting the health of its thousands of patients."

Editor's note, May 24, 2018: This story has been edited to include Essen Medical's statement in full. The headline has been changed in light of that new information.