The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) acting chief information officer (CIO), Scott Blackburn, has resigned from his position, effective immediately.
Blackburn, who had been appointed as the department’s acting CIO since October 2017, announced his resignation on Twitter this week, noting that it will be a “bittersweet moment” in his career without getting into more details about why he would be leaving. The VA will replace Blackburn with Camilo Sandoval, a former Trump campaign director of data operations, according to media reports.
As CIO, Blackburn was in charge of VA’s Office of Information and Technology, and when he took over the role last year, one of his top projects was replacing VA’s legacy EHR (electronic health record) system, called VistA, by adopting the same platform as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), a Cerner EHR system.
But now, the resignation of Blackburn, coming just weeks after President Trump ousted VA Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., will only lead to more questions about the status of the VA-Cerner EHR deal. Reports have surfaced in recent months that the VA-Cerner contract, which has not yet been signed, will be in the $10 billion range, making it one of the largest health IT implementations in history. The hefty cost has concerned Congressional members since that $10 billion figure doesn’t even include infrastructure improvements or implementation support.
What’s more, negotiations between VA and Cerner have been delayed. In December, Secretary Shulkin announced “a strategic pause” in the EHR acquisition process, with the purpose being to conduct an assessment of national interoperability language contained in the Request for Proposal that would ultimately support an EHR contract award. MITRE Corporation would be conducting the external assessment and Shulkin said earlier this month that MITRE provided the VA with 51 recommendations, and that the agency was building these into the contract with Cerner.
In January, Blackburn said that “The Cerner implementation will take about a decade. If it’s starting in the northwest quadrant of the country and moving east, those on the Eastern Seaboard are going to be using VistA for about 10 years [more] or so.”
Meanwhile, according to a report in Federal News Radio, “Acting officials now hold nearly all of VA’s top leadership positions, including the secretary, undersecretaries for the Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Administration, and now the CIO. Many of those positions have been open for nearly 400 days.”
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