One Community Hospital’s Journey Forward into Enhanced Disaster Recovery Planning

Feb. 24, 2019
The leaders at Canton-Potsdam Hospital in upstate New York have made strides in enhancing their disaster recovery capability and planning

Canton-Potsdam Hospital (CPH) is a 94-bed not-for-profit community hospital located in Potsdam, New York, with core programs in emergency medicine, acute care, hospitalist medicine, and critical care, supplemented by outpatient healthcare services in Brasher Falls, Canton, Colton, Massena, Norfolk, Norwood, and Potsdam. Canton-Potsdam Hospital has a sister hospital, Gouverneur Hospital, in nearby Gouverneur, and both are part of the St. Lawrence Health System, based in Potsdam.

With patient care their biggest priority, downtime is not acceptable to Canton-Potsdam’s leaders. Needing a disaster recovery strategy that would minimize downtime and ensure it met all healthcare compliance and regulatory requirements, the hospital’s leaders turned to the Boston-based Zerto as a disaster recovery and data security partner.

Meanwhile, as part of its commitment to continuous improvement, Canton-Potsdam Hospital’s leaders had budgeted for a more innovative disaster recovery plan for the next fiscal year, but a potential storage failure forced the hospital to modernize immediately. Data migrations and compliance reporting for MEDITECH, their electronic health record (EHR) system, had also proven extremely time-consuming and complex. They needed a solution that minimized downtime, met all compliance requirements and easily recovered EHR data in the event of a disaster. The hospital implemented Zerto’s IT Resilience Platform in hours vs. the months it would have taken to replace storage arrays. Benefits have included a 75-percent reduction in recovery time, and 99-percent success in meeting recovery point objectives, as well as streamlined testing and compliance reporting.

Recently, Vanessa Babcock, senior systems engineer in Information Systems at Canton-Potsdam, spoke with Healthcare Innovation Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland, to discuss the organization’s forward evolution in this area. Below are excerpts from that interview.

What was it that made you and your colleagues decide to proactively work to strengthen the resilience of your IT infrastructure?

Yes, three to four years ago, we started improving everything related to IT policies and procedures, becoming more integrated with other departments in the hospital like compliance. In 2016, we realized we needed to create a disaster recovery plan, and we started researching disaster recovery solutions, Zerto among them.

So, prior to that time, your organization had not had a formal disaster recovery plan in place, then, correct?

Previously, we did run backups and things like that, but had no specific disaster recovery plan in place, that’s correct.

What did you realize your core needs were in that area?

We needed to ensure that Meditech [the organization’s electronic health record] was recoverable, because we only had tape backups at the time. And such a backup, using tape, would take days in order to achieve full recovery. Recovering from tape just wasn’t a viable option any longer; we needed a solution that could take the time and human resources out of that.

How long was the selection process?

We did some discovery research for a few months with a couple of outsource vendors to see what our options might be. We looked into several. Once we did the demo of Zerto, we were really impressed. And we actually had a storage failure, which led us to implement the Zerto software.

How long did the implementation process take?

Due to the storage failure, we bought, set up, and implemented the solution within two weeks’ time. And that definitely seeks to the usability of the solution; it’s very easy to implement and to use. It also speaks to the capability of the team. We proved that the live fail-over works, so quickly.

Is this solution a cloud-based solution?

No, it’s on-site-hosted. It’s possible to replicate to the cloud, and that’s something that we might consider. We budgeted for the enterprise licensing, which would allow us that capability for 2019, not only for the cloud replication, but also the new Zerto7 backup resiliency. We’d like to test that out and see if we can combine some backup strategies into multiple systems, rather than the four systems we have now.

Do you have a chief information security officer?

We did have one. He left the organization in 2017. So we no longer have that position, but we have a security officer and a director of information systems, and they share those responsibilities.

Tell me a bit about your backup procedures? Do you do any audits of your backups?

We use Symantec backup Exec to back up disks, for anything non-Meditech-related. The EMC Network Software we use for Meditech, which is required for Meditech. We have backup to disk and backup to tape as well.

Tell me about the technical and procedural connection between your backup and disaster recovery processes?

We use Zerto to replicate everything to our disaster recovery site. It’s used more often than our actual backup to disk or tape. I’ve used it several times to recover a file, or if we have a virus in a piece of software, we can easily revert with their Snapshot capability. And our hope is to combine everything into Zerto utilizing the backup technology as well as the replication, next year.

What have the learnings been so far around these issues?

We were able to validate the solution for ourselves prior to doing the live fail-over, so that was a big learning for us. Meanwhile, MEDITECH has officially validated and approved the combination of Zerto and Bridgehead Software for protecting MEDITECH environments. And we are now able to test on demand as needed, as well as to complete the monthly testing for each of the replicated servers. In the past, we had no demand from Compliance to do so. Now we can easily do those tests on demand for live fail-over, so that was a big gain.

Do you do any type of network segmentation yet for your EHR?

Networking isn’t my position, but MEDITECH is segregated to its own sub-net; still, it communicates to other systems, so it’s not really segregated in that sense.

What will happen in the next couple of years, as your organization evolves forward in this area?

Some of that is a little bit up in the air. Also in the last quarter of this year, we signed an intent to affiliate with Rochester Regional Hospital; they’re a six-hospital system. We’re in the beginning phases, and we’ve just signed a letter of intent to affiliate. So that might affect our plans.

Do you have any advice to share with fellow colleagues trying to work out these kinds of issues?

I would say, investigate what solution is best for you. Our vendor solution really works for us. There are separate solutions out there, and it really comes down to what’s best for any particular organization, and whatever solution meets those needs.

Do you have any thoughts on ransomware?

Fortunately, we haven’t personally been affected by ransomware. And the Zerto journaling will allow you get a very granular snapshot that will allow for the least amount of data loss. So if the ransomware infection occurred eight hours ago, you can go back to sends from infection. So the Zero solution offers an easy way to recover from an infection in a timely way.

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