ONC Chief DeSalvo Leaving ONC, But Staying at HHS

Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, who up until Thursday was serving in two roles at the US Department of Health and Human (HHS), has stepped down as head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). DeSalvo will remain solely in the role of HHS’ acting assistant secretary for health—one of the two positions she’s held since October 2014—while Vindell Washington, MD, MHCM, FACEP, will assume the top position at ONC, according to an ONC press release.

DeSalvo was first asked to step into the acting assistant secretary for health role when the Ebola crisis sweeping several African nations resulted in infections among a handful of American healthcare workers.

“Since that time, she has provided critical leadership on the Department’s public health agenda while simultaneously serving as National Coordinator,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell in a statement to the press.

DeSalvo was appointed as ONC’s national coordinator in December 2013, replacing Dr. Farzad Mostashari. Prior to ONC, DeSalvo worked as the New Orleans city health commissioner and senior health policy advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu. She was instrumental in modernizing New Orleans’ healthcare system and increasing access to care in the city’s low-income areas.

In her time at ONC, DeSalvo helped to update the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and develop a Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap. She also oversaw advances in the Health Information Technology Certification Program.

DeSalvo’s tenure at ONC has also seen the “meaningful use” EHR Incentive Program fold into the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). In July, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule that would reduce the CMS meaningful use reporting period for clinicians, hospitals, and critical access hospitals. The new reporting period would be a 90-day period from the previous calendar year period for returning participants.

Washington, who is moving up from his previous role of principal deputy national coordinator at ONC, has worked on initiatives at ONC including delivery system reform, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and responses to the opioid crisis.

In an interview with Politico, DeSalvo said of Washington “His true north is very well set with mine. I have so much confidence in his leadership abilities, his management abilities. I’m thrilled he is willing to take on that [national coordinator] responsibility.”

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