Setback for Sutter after $1B EHR crashes

'No access to medication orders, patient allergies and other information puts patients at serious risk'

This story was updated at 2:16 p.m. ET. 
 
The nearly $1 billion electronic health record system at Sutter Health in Northern California failed early this week, leaving nurses and clinical staff unable to access any patient information for a full day. 
 
On Aug. 26 at approximately 8 a.m., the Epic EHR system failed, at which time nurses, physicians and hospital staff had no access to patient information, including what medications patients were taking or required to take and all vital patient history data, according to reports from the California Nurses Association, part of National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the U.S. 
 
Days earlier, the EHR system was also down for eight hours due to a planned upgrade; nurses could still read medication orders and patient histories but had to record new data on paper to then be re-entered into the system later. 
 
[See also: Nurses demand delay of EHR rollout.]
 
The Epic EHR went dark at several Sutter Health locations, including Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Eden Medical Center, Mills-Peninsula Hospital, Sutter Delta, Sutter Tracy, Sutter Modesto and numerous affiliated clinics. (Sutter Health Shared Services Center pictured above.)
 
"This incident is especially worrisome," said Bonnie Castilla, RN, CNA legislative director, in a news release. "No access to medication orders, patient allergies and other information puts patients at serious risk. These systems should never be relied upon for protecting patients or assuring the delivery of the safest care."
 
[See also: Go-live gone wrong.]
 
"All information such as medication administration records and patient histories was outdated by two to three days," said Mike Hill, Alta Bates Summit RN, of the incident. "There were no orders that could be seen of any kind through the day so nurses called for what they needed."
 
Officials at Sutter Health confirmed the outages. "On Monday morning, we experienced an issue with the software that manages user access to the EHR," wrote Sutter Health spokesperson Bill Gleeson, in an emailed statement to Healthcare IT News. "This caused intermittent access challenges in some locations. Our team applied a software patch Monday night to resolve the issue and restore access. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused patients," Gleeson added.
 
Gleeson explained that the California Nurses Association continues to oppose the use of health information technology and ultimately misrepresented the situation. "It comes as no surprise given the fact that we are in a protracted labor dispute with CNA," he said. 
 
Kevin Sweat, an emergency room RN at Eden Medical Center, a Sutter affiliate, however, said the blackout is a legitimate issue, explaining that in his 12 years as an RN he has never seen a system fail like this.  
 
Recently, nurses at Sutter Health have come under fire for failing to enter all the billing charges into the EHR system, which has resulted in the hospital reporting a loss of more than $6,000 in charges in a single week, according to a July memo sent to staff. "We can’t afford to operate like this," wrote Joan Fosenburg, Women's Health department manager, in the memo. "If you do something that is chargeable, charge for it!!!"
 
"We have been on Epic for 5 months now, and we can no longer have incorrect orders, missing information or incorrect or missing charges. Starting on September 1st, errors made in any of the above will result in progressive discipline," according to another hospital memo sent to staff.
 
Some RNs also reported that Sutter failed to provide adequate support during the blackout and didn't implement adequate backup planning, similar to what nurses at Ohio-based Affinity Medical Center reported earlier this summer.