Karen DeSalvo, M.D., the National Coordinator for Health IT has been tapped to serve as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health as part of the Ebola response team by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
DeSalvo will be replaced by Lisa Lewis, the chief operating officer at ONC, in the interim. It’s unclear if DeSalvo will return to ONC in the future. She will be Acting Assistant Secretary for Health until a new one is named at HHS. A source at ONC says the acting positions are not usually permanent, so there is a chance that she will eventually return. She is still expected to still work with ONC in her new role but will spend the majority of her time on other duties.
Here’s the full comment from an ONC spokesperson, who confirmed the news to Healthcare Informatics:
HHS Secretary Burwell asked National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo to serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, effective immediately. In this role she will work with the Secretary on pressing public health issues, including becoming a part of the Department’s team responding to Ebola. Dr. DeSalvo has 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. Lisa Lewis, ONC’s chief operating officer, will serve as the Acting National Coordinator. However, Dr. DeSalvo will continue to support the work of ONC while she is at OASH.
DeSalvo has a background in public health. Before she was named as National Coordinator in late 2013, she was City of New Orleans Health Commissioner and Senior Health Policy Advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu. In New Orleans, she helped rebuild the public health infrastructure after Hurricane Katrinea. She also increased the use of health IT within the city’s policy development, public health initiatives, and emergency preparedness. In her first year, New Orleans' primary care clinics transitioned to a network of high-quality community health centers operated by partners, which allowed the city health department to reorganize and shift its focus to public health.
DeSalvo's departure comes at a time of great turnover at the ONC. In the last few months, high-profile leaders at the agency such as Judy Murphy, R.N., ONC’s chief nursing officer, Doug Fridsma, M.D., Ph.D., the agency’s chief science officer, and others, including Lygeia Ricciardi and Joy Pritts, have left.
UPDATE: Reports from Politico and other media sources are saying that Jacob Reider, M.D. the deputy national coordinator at the ONC, has resigned. HCI has confirmed that news with ONC.
HCI will have more on this story as it develops.