UPDATE: It seems that DeSalvo will still be National Coordinator of Healthcare IT along with her new position.
It’s been a tumultuous few months for ONC and it’s just gotten even more tumultuous. We previously reported about the departures of Doug Fridsma MD, ONC’s Chief Science Officer, Joy Pritts, the first Chief Privacy Officer at ONC, and Lygeia Ricciardi, Director of the Office of Consumer eHealth, and Judy Murphy, Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) from ONC. Yesterday, the news dropped that Karen DeSalvo, ONC’s National Coordinator, and Jacob Reider, ONC’s Deputy National Coordinator, are both leaving ONC as well.
Karen DeSalvo has been tapped by HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Wanda K. Jones as assistant secretary of health which oversees the surgeon general’s office and will be working on Ebola and other pressing health issues. I think DeSalvo’s letter to staff describes it well:
As you know, I have deep roots and a belief in public health and its critical value in assuring the health of everyone, not only in crisis, but every day, and I am honored to be asked to step in to serve.
DeSalvo’s always been a major public health advocate and that’s where her passion lies. Her passion isn’t healthcare technology. So, this change isn’t surprising. Although, it is a little surprising that it comes only 10 months into her time at ONC.
The obvious choice as Acting National Coordinator would have been Jacob Reider who was previously Acting National Coordinator when Farzad Mostashari left. However, Reider also announced his decision to leave ONC:
In light of the events that led to Karen’s announcement today–it’s appropriate now to be clear about my plans, as well. With Jon White and Andy Gettinger on board, and a search for a new Deputy National Coordinator well underway, I am pleased that much of this has now fallen into place–with only a few loose ends yet to be completed. I’ll remain at ONC until late November, working closely with Lisa as she assumes her role as Acting National Coordinator.
As Reider mentions, Lisa Lewis who is currently ONC’s COO will be serving as Acting National Coordinator at ONC.
What’s All This Mean?
There’s a lot of speculation as to why all of these departures are happening at ONC. Many people believe that ONC is a sinking ship and people are doing everything they can to get off the ship before it sinks completely. Others have suggested that these people see an opportunity to make a lot more money working for a company. The government certainly doesn’t pay market wages for the skills these people have. Plus, their connections and experience at ONC give them some unique qualifications that many companies are willing to pay to get. Some have suggested that the meaningful use work is mostly done and so these people want to move on to something new.
My guess is that it’s a mix of all of these things. It’s always hard to make broad generalizations about topics like this. For example, I already alluded to the fact that I think Karen DeSalvo saw an opportunity to move to a position that was more in line with her passions. Hard to fault someone for making that move. We’d all do the same.
What is really unclear is the future of ONC. They still have a few years of meaningful use which they’ll have to administer including the EHR penalties which could carry meaningful use forward for even longer than just a few years. I expect ONC will still have money to work on things like interoperability. We’ll see if ONC can put together the patient safety initiative they started or if that will get shut down because it’s outside their jurisdiction.
Beyond those things, what’s the future of ONC?