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Karen DeSalvo, M.D. Stepping Down as National Coordinator for Full-Time HHS Role

August 11, 2016
by Heather Landi
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Vindell Washington, M.D., has been tapped to replace DeSalvo and will lead ONC as National Coordinator.
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Karen DeSalvo, M.D. is stepping down as National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to focus on her role as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, according to an announcement from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

In the same announcement, Burwell revealed that Vindell Washington, M.D., will replace DeSalvo as National Coordinator, overseeing the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Washington had previously served as Principal Deputy National Coordinator at ONC. The announcement from Burwell was an email sent to ONC staff about the staff transitions.

DeSalvo will hand over the office to Washington on Friday, August 12.

For almost two years, DeSalvo served the dual role of National Coordinator and Acting Assistant Secretary for Health. DeSalvo was tapped by Burwell to serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS in October 2014 in order to lead HHS’s Ebola response team.

It was unclear at the time if DeSalvo would return to the ONC role. She was named as National Coordinator in late 2013 and officially took the helm at ONC in January 2014.

In a statement about DeSalvo’s departure from ONC, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) president and CEO Russell Branzell praised her work to advance health information technology policy.

During her tenure heading the Office of the National Coordinator, Karen DeSalvo, M.D., has been instrumental in advancing adoption of health information technology and making interoperability and health information exchange a national priority. We appreciate the strong working relationship that ONC and CHIME have been able to forge over the past few years and our collective work to advance health IT policy and promote solutions that push the entire industry toward higher-value and better care. We look forward to continuing that collaborative approach with Vindell Washington, M.D., as he takes the helm at ONC,” Branzell wrote.

Regarding DeSalvo’s leadership at ONC, Burwell praised DeSalvo’s work to advance interoperability across the health system, “which underpins progress on a wide range of department and administration priorities.”

“She has also made significant advances to the Health Information Technology Certification Program to promote and expand the safe and secure flow of electronic health information when and where it matters most for individuals and clinicians,” Burwell stated. 

“During her tenure, ONC has worked with other federal partners and the private sector to update the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and develop a Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, both of which chart a person-centered path for improving health outcomes by unlocking health data through tools like open application programming interfaces (APIs). She has also co-chaired the department’s Delivery System Reform efforts, which set historic goals and worked to leverage the resources of the Department to build a more person centered health system that encourages more coordinated care,” Burwell stated.

Regarding Washington’s transition to take the leadership role at ONC, Burwell noted Washington’s work as principal deputy national coordinator at ONC, including his involvement in key initiatives such as delivery system reform, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and the opioid crisis. 

Vindell Washington, M.D.

“In his capacity as National Coordinator, Vindell will continue to lead the administration’s efforts to leverage health information technology to reform how we pay for and deliver care; transform health research and innovation to empower clinicians, individuals and communities to manage their health; and oversee implementation of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and the Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap to unlock digital health data and ensure it is widely accessible, usable, and transferable throughout the public and private sectors,” Burwell wrote.

In the announcement, Burwell also noted DeSalvo’s achievements in her role as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS.

“As many of you know, I asked Karen to take on the duties of Assistant Secretary for Health in October 2014 during the Ebola crisis. Since that time, she has provided critical leadership on the department’s public health agenda while simultaneously serving as National Coordinator,” Burwell wrote in the email. “As Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, Karen has been instrumental in supporting families affected by the water crisis in Flint, in promoting nutritional and physical fitness through the development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the events surrounding the 60th anniversary of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, and in leading the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.”

“This year, she launched Public Health 3.0, an innovative cross-sector approach to strengthening local public health and building healthier communities,” Burwell wrote. “I am deeply grateful to Karen for her leadership and for her incredible service in both of these roles for nearly two years.”