DeSalvo To Keep ‘Her Leadership’ of ONC Despite New HHS Job

October 29, 2014 in News

On Tuesday,  the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT clarified that Karen DeSalvo will be “maintaining her leadership of” the agency while she serves as acting HHS assistant secretary for health, Modern Healthcare‘s “Vital Signs” reports (Conn, “Vital Signs,” Modern Healthcare, 10/28).

Background on Last Week’s Announcement

Last week, DeSalvo announced that she would leave her post to serve as acting HHS assistant secretary for health, effective immediately, where she will lead HHS’ Ebola response team.

Meanwhile, Lisa Lewis — ONC’s COO — became acting National Coordinator for Health IT (iHealthBeat, 10/28).

In an emailed statement to iHealthBeat, ONC spokesperson Peter Ashkenaz said that DeSalvo was leaving her role at ONC at the request of HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Ashkenaz said that DeSalvo would serve as acting assistant secretary until the Senate has confirmed an assistant secretary for HHS (iHealthBeat, 10/24).

The announcement prompted mixed reaction from industry stakeholders, with some — such as the American Medical Association — raising concerns for future health IT initiatives, while others — such as the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives — saying the leadership change offered new opportunities (iHealthBeat, 10/28).  

Clarification of Announcement

Initially, DeSalvo and ONC would not comment on whether she would eventually return to the agency (iHealthBeat, 10/24).

Further, HHS’ original bio information for DeSalvo said she “previously held the role of National Coordinator for Health IT,” according to Politico‘s “Morning eHealth.”

However, HHS spokesperson Sarah Baldauf noted that the original HHS bio “was an honest mistake” made by the individual who did the update. She added the recent change in language was “not a response to backlash” from the industry about DeSalvo’s departure.

When asked why the agency named an acting national coordinator for health IT if DeSalvo is maintaining her leadership post, Baldauf said, “It’s a process question,” adding, ” You don’t relinquish your former when you take on an acting. I realize that’s confusing, but that is the case” (Gold, “Morning eHealth,” Politico, 10/29).

Details of DeSalvo’s Dual Roles

In a blog post, ONC said that DeSalvo will continue to oversee “high-level policy issues,” while Lewis will handle day-to-day responsibilities at ONC (“Vital Signs,” Modern Healthcare, 10/28).

In addition, DeSalvo will continue to chair the Health IT Policy Committee, work to finalize the interoperability roadmap and stay involved in the meaningful use program (Bresnick, EHR Intelligence, 10/29).

Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHRs can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments.

American Medical Association Response

On Thursday, the AMA in a statement said that the group was “pleased to learn” that DeSalvo will continue her work at ONC.

AMA President-Elect Steven Stack said, “We look forward to continuing to work with [DeSalvo] to fix the meaningful use program and achieve an interoperable technology infrastructure” (AMA statement, 10/29).

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