Created in 1962, the Southern Nevada Health District is one of the largest local public health organizations in the United States. The health district serves more than 2.2 million residents, which represents 72 percent of Nevada’s total population. Additionally, the Health District is charged with safeguarding the public health of more than 42 million visitors to Las Vegas each year. The health district currently employs approximately 500 staff members working in four divisions: Administration, Community Health, Environmental Health, and Clinical Services.
One of the largest public health organizations in the U.S., Southern Nevada Health District, needed to quickly adapt to a work-from-home operating model during the COVID-19 pandemic while providing front-line response to the health crisis. The Palo Alto Networks Prisma Access clouddelivered secure access service edge solution enabled the health district to redeploy two-thirds of its staff to securely work from home within two weeks. This allowed the health district to continue delivering vital services, including health screenings, processing inspection reports, granting permits, issuing birth and death certificates, and managing day-to-day business operations while supporting front-line workers fighting the pandemic. Prisma Access is part of a complete, unified security solution with endpoint protection provided by Cortex XDR Prevent, securing the entire organization against cyberthreats and protecting sensitive information for regulatory compliance.
Robust Security for Vital Public Health Services
As the local public health agency in the Las Vegas, Nevada area, the Southern Nevada Health District touches the lives of residents, employers, and visitors every day. From the food people eat, to the public spaces and businesses they visit, to the clinical health services they need, the health district is at work ensuring those experiences are safe, healthy, and compliant with applicable laws and ordinances.
It’s a vital service, and a huge responsibility, carried out by a diverse team of health, environmental, clinical, and administrative professionals. The health district’s staff operates out of seven locations in the communities surrounding Las Vegas, updating health records, processing inspection reports, granting permits, issuing birth and death certificates, and managing the day-to-day operation of one of the largest public health organizations in the United States.
Reliable access to applications and databases is critical to delivering all these services, and securing information traversing the health district’s network is of the utmost importance. Much of the information is highly sensitive—personal medical records, lab results, screenings for infectious diseases—and must adhere to HIPAA compliance regulations. To provide end-to-end security across the organization, Southern Nevada Health District relies on a unified security infrastructure from Palo Alto Networks with holistic data management and backup provided by Rubrik.
Jason Frame, chief information officer with Southern Nevada Health District, says, “We grade simplicity high on our priority list when evaluating systems; this is why we have other systems in place, like Rubrik that requires virtually no manual backup management. That’s a big reason why we went with Palo Alto Networks as well—it’s incredibly easy to use, which is especially important when you have a lean IT team like ours. Logs from the firewalls, endpoints, and remote devices all flow into a central logging service, which is a big benefit for us from a security and compliance standpoint. With Panorama, we only have one place to go, and that makes it easy for us to manage security across the organization.”
Assures Service Continuance with Secure Work-from-Home Access
Delivering the IT and security services to meet the everyday demands of the health district is a big job under standard operating conditions; when COVID-19 hit, IT and the entire health district had to shift into overdrive.
Virtually overnight, Southern Nevada Health District was on the front lines of fighting a pandemic. One team was providing about 1,000 COVID-19 tests per day, another team performing contact tracing, others coordinating resources with the state and reporting back to the CDC. Adding to the challenge, two-thirds of all health district employees were required to work from home; only the most essential front-line workers remained onsite focused directly on the COVID-19 crisis.
Fortunately, the health district was prepared. A key component of its security infrastructure is Prisma™ Access, a clouddelivered secure access service edge solution. When initially deployed, Prisma Access provided secure remote access for food inspectors, traveling nurses, and other field agents who use tablets to connect with the central data center to access applications and upload data. With the assistance of local partner CompuNet Inc., the health district was able to leverage Prisma Access and enable more than 400 employees to work from home—quickly, securely, and with minimal disruption.
“We enabled our entire remote workforce of 400 employees to securely work remotely in less than two weeks,” Frame notes. “We just loaded the Prisma Access client on laptops and instructed people how they could remote into their virtual desktops.”
Nearly every part of the health district has been able to continue delivering services from home or in the field taking all the necessary safety precautions. Nurses working with expectant mothers and newborns now do visits at the patent’s home instead of in the office to minimize risk. Prisma Access allows them to document visits from the field with assurance that their data is secure and HIPAA compliant. The communications team is able to continue updating the website and the press to keep the public informed. The finance department can still process paychecks for employees to pay their bills and keep food on the table.
Frame remarks, “Some staff who would not be able to do their normal jobs due to the shutdown were able to transition to different roles like contact tracing that they could do from home and stay employed. We didn’t have to lay off or furlough anyone. We were able to save jobs and keep people working. Without the secure remote access capabilities of Prisma Access, we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
He adds, “We’ve actually had people send us thank-you notes and emails thanking us for allowing them to work at home with their families, and be able to take care of their kids doing school online. It’s great to hear that what we’re doing in IT is making a difference in the lives of our employees.”
Unified Security on Premises and at Home
One of the reasons Southern Nevada Health District can be assured its remote workers are secure is that Prisma Access connects them to network services through the Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Firewalls deployed in the health district’s data center. They cannot bypass this connection. That means all traffic is subject to the same security policies, the same granular inspection, as if they were in the office directly connected to the network.
All of the health district’s endpoints—physical and virtual servers and desktops—are also secured with Palo Alto Networks Cortex XDR™ Prevent. Fortunately, the health district has not seen large numbers of cyberattacks, but it did have a scare when remnants from a former failed ransomware attack were discovered on a shared drive. “Palo Alto Networks caught the ransomware and we were able to stop the threat in less than two minutes,” Frame recalls. “What’s most important is nothing has gotten through and hurt us so far. The malware isn’t getting in because Cortex XDR Prevent keeps us protected.”
Palo Alto Networks also helps Frame and his team streamline investigations and simplify day-to-day monitoring of network activity through the centralized Panorama management software. Frame says, “Panorama™ saves us a lot of time, whether its investigating potentially malicious activity or enabling access that people need. It’s easy having the visibility and control we need in one place. And being in the cloud, we can access Panorama remotely, which has been especially helpful during the pandemic.”
Business Resilience In the Midst of a Health Crisis
With the help of Palo Alto Networks, the Southern Nevada Health District has been able to keep its operations up and running securely for front-line workers in the battle against COVID-19, as well as remote workers continuing to provide vital services to ensure the health and safety of citizens, patrons, and visitors throughout the Las Vegas area. This has had public health, as well as social and economic, implications for the community.
“We were able to keep most of our services to the public running, just in a different fashion,” Frame points out. “For example, we were able to shift services for birth and death certificates to online instead of on site, and enable our staff to process them remotely. It allowed us to still be responsive with such a needed service for families during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Similarly, the environmental health team was able to process its reporting offsite as restaurants, casinos, hotels, and other businesses prepared for reopening. “The team could provide their services in a safe way,” Frame says. “It’s all about infection control—not spreading the disease—while serving the people. Without that, the reopening would be a lot slower and more difficult for our constituents.”
The Southern Nevada Health District has been on a journey of digital transformation, enabling a more agile and resilient workforce while enforcing strong security to protect public information and prevent cyberthreats from disrupting operations. Palo Alto Networks plays a key part in this journey
Frame concludes, “The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the need for digital transformation and we’ve been able to respond efficiently to that need with the help of security solutions from Palo Alto Networks.”