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DeSalvo shifts focus from health IT to Ebola crisis

Karen DeSalvo

Karen DeSalvo

Karen DeSalvo is leaving her job as head of the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to take on the post of acting assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, where she will be the point person for HHS’s response to the Ebola outbreak.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) oversees the Surgeon General, the National Vaccine Program Office, the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, and other key public health initiatives.

DeSalvo is taking up her new role immediately, at the request of HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, according to an ONC spokesperson. "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," the spokesperson said in an email.

Lisa Lewis, ONC’s chief operating officer, will take over as acting National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. That office is facilitating the adoption of interoperable electronic health records by health care providers though a mix of incentives and rulemaking. The ONC doled out an estimated $25 billion in incentives paid for by the 2009 economic stimulus legislation. Now the ONC is moving to use its regulatory muscle to build in interoperability requirements for electronic health care record vendors and to use the lever of government payers like Medicare to enforce the use of EHRs.

The ONC has seen a series of executive departures in the wake of a reorganization that was announced in late May, which streamlined the organization to accommodate the end of stimulus funding for EHR incentives. Joy Pritts, chief privacy officer, departed in July. Chief scientist Doug Fridsma is leaving to lead the American Medical Informatics Association. Judy Murphy resigned as director of the ONC's Office of Clinical Quality and Safety earlier this month.

DeSalvo served as health commissioner for New Orleans before joining ONC. She will continue to be available to advise ONC efforts while she is acting as assistant secretary for health, according to the spokesperson.

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