In case you missed it, last week it was announced that Karen DeSalvo had been appointed Assistant Secretary of Health focused on Ebola by HHS Secretary Burwell. In that same announcement Jacob Reider also announced his departure from ONC.
While the news was true that DeSalvo was taking on a new role at HHS as Assistant Secretary of Health, ONC also published a blog post that DeSalvo would stay on as National Coordinator of Health IT as well:
Dr. DeSalvo will serve as Acting ASH while maintaining her leadership of ONC. Importantly, she will continue to work on high level policy issues at ONC, and ONC will follow the policy direction that she has set. She will remain the chair of the Health IT Policy Committee; she will continue to lead on the development and finalization of the Interoperability Roadmap; and she will remain involved in meaningful use policymaking. She will also continue to co-chair the HHS cross-departmental work on delivery system reform.
Lisa Lewis will provide day to day leadership at ONC. Lewis served as Acting Principal Deputy National Coordinator before Dr. DeSalvo joined ONC, so she has had experience with all parts of our work. She will lead our extremely talented and very strong team during Dr. DeSalvo’s deployment to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.
But most importantly, the team that is ONC is far more than one or two leaders. The team of ONC is personified in each and every individual – all part of a steady ship and a strong and important part of HHS’ path toward delivery system reform and overall health improvement.
Seems like an awkward arrangement if you ask me. DeSalvo will be providing high level leadership on policy direction, but Lisa Lewis will handle the day to day leadership. That job description for DeSalvo sounds like something an Assistant Secretary of Health might do and Lisa Lewis’ job sounds like something the National Coordinator would do.
I’m sure there’s more to this story. Maybe moving DeSalvo to Assistant Secretary was a way for ONC to save money and keep DeSalvo on board working on healthcare IT. If ONC’s budget gets cut, then HHS still has a way to pay for DeSalvo. Maybe that’s why Lisa Lewis can’t be promoted to full National Coordinator. Then again, maybe it’s like I mentioned when we first heard the DeSalvo news, DeSalvo is more of a public health person than she is a healthcare IT person.
The fact that DeSalvo is remaining as National Coordinator is interesting. However, I just came back from CHIME (healthcare CIO conference) where DeSalvo was scheduled as one of the plenary session speakers. However, she didn’t show and so the whole session was cancelled. I guess you could make the case that she’s got Ebola to deal with right now, but it also illustrates how health IT will be playing second fiddle for her going forward. Likely says something about the future of ONC.