Health IT

DeSalvo leaving ONC; Dr. Vindell Washington named new HIT coordinator

Dr. Vindell Washington has been Dr. Karen DeSalvo’s deputy since January. He previously was president of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System Medical Group in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as CMIO of the health system.

Dr. Vindell Washington

Dr. Vindell Washington

More than a year after being nominated to be assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Karen DeSalvo is stepping down as national health IT coordinator on Friday. She will be replaced by Dr. Vindell Washington, who has been principal deputy national coordinator in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Washington will be the first African-American to hold the top job at ONC, an office created in 2004.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the news Thursday. In an email to staff, Burwell suggested it would pretty much be business as usual at ONC for the final five months of the Obama administration:

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.

Washington has been DeSalvo’s deputy since January. Like DeSalvo, he came from Louisiana; Washington previously was president of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System Medical Group in Baton Rouge, as well as CMIO of the health system.

Burwell said Washington has been involved with other HHS officials in addressing healthcare payment reform, the Precision Medicine Initiative and the opioid crisis.

DeSalvo’s departure from ONC has been expected for a long time. She was named acting assistant secretary in October 2014, specifically to help Burwell address the Ebola outbreak that was raging at the time. There were inaccurate reports that DeSalvo was leaving ONC then; instead, she took on a dual role that she has held for nearly two years.

In May 2015, President Obama formally nominated DeSalvo for the assistant secretary position. She had a confirmation hearing from a Senate committee in August 2015, but her nomination never got to the floor of the Senate in gridlocked Washington.

DeSalvo has been national coordinator since January 2014. We are going to miss her awesome shoe collection.

Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services