Lawmaker Expresses Concerns Regarding VA Leadership, EHR Overhaul

In a recent open letter to Secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie, Rep. Jim Banks, R-IN, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, expressed concerns regarding the stability and direction of leadership for the Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program at the VA.

The letter was sent the same day as the resignation of Genevieve Morris as chief health information officer of the EHRM—which came barely a month after she was appointed to manage the project, according to Nextgov. In her resignation letter, Morris noted differences with the VA leadership, and why she felt it was most appropriate to step down since her role was intended as an interim one.

Morris’s resignation also came just days after Ashwini Zenooz resigned as chief medical officer in charge of implementation for the new system, compounding Banks’s concerns. These resignations, Banks noted, left at most only half of the program’s senior leadership positions filled, while “its rank-and-file positions are only sparsely filled.”

Banks’s letter follows a report from ProPublica that alleges three friends of President Donald Trump—Ike Perlmutter, chairmen of Marvel Entertainment, Marc Sherman, a lawyer, and Bruce Moskowitz, a doctor—have been quietly shaping VA policies, though none hold official positions in the government or military.

“It would be a tragedy for the program to be undermined by personality conflicts and bureaucratic power struggles before it even begins in earnest,” Banks said in the letter. Banks also noted that he was unable to meet with the EHRM leadership before their departures, despite several requests to do so.

“I am dedicated to pursuing a constructive oversight agenda to encourage VA to make the right decisions, but any engagement is difficult without stable leadership,” he said. Banks encouraged the agency to identify a permanent chief health information officer “who possesses the requisite medical and technical knowledge and demonstrates managerial competency for such a large EHR transition” immediately, as well as to identify a new chief medical officer from within the Veterans Health Administration.

The VA’s electronic health records project has been a long-running saga, from VistA to Blue Button, and lawmakers want to see the latest investment in its future—clocking in at several billions of dollars—succeed. “Leadership will make or break this project, as will the oversight,” said Rep. Tim Walz, D-MN, ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, after announcing the creation of the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization to conduct oversight on EHR modernization and other VA technology projects. “EHR modernization is a big bet on the future of VA and we simply must make sure it succeeds.”

 

Sarah Sheber is assistant editor/web editor at Journal of AHIMA.

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