Health IT national coordinator leaves to battle Ebola

Karen DeSalvo is stepping down from her role as the national coordinator for health IT to take over as acting assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell asked DeSalvo to take on the assistant secretary position and aid her in this time of crisis fighting Ebola, according to a spokesman at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. DeSalvo, who joined ONC as national coordinator in January after a stint as the health commissioner for the city of New Orleans, will assume her new position immediately.

“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 ONC spokesperson said.

Lisa Lewis, ONC’s chief operating officer, will step in as acting national coordinator.


DeSalvo will be the acting assistant secretary for health, but it is unclear if she will be officially nominated for Senate confirmation. After joining HHS, DeSalvo will remain in an advisory role to Lewis and the ONC team when she moves to HHS, the spokesperson said.

Simultaneously, ONC Deputy National Coordinator Jacob Reider announced he will depart the office in November. In an email to ONC staff obtained by FedScoop, Reider said he made the decision with his family, who live in New York where he’s been commuting to and from weekly.

“Karen and I worked closely on the timing of both this announcement and my departure so that there would be a good transition, strong clinical leadership at ONC, and continued ONC strength on the issues that remain so important to me: decision support, quality improvement, health IT safety and of course usability,” he wrote in the email. “In light of the events that led to Karen’s announcement today – it’s appropriate now to be clear about my plans as well. With Jon White and Andy Gettinger on-board, and a search for a new Deputy National Coordinator well underway, I am pleased that much of this has now fallen into place – with only a few loose ends yet to be completed.”

The ONC, charged for the last decade with driving forward the nation’s health IT efforts, is facing a critical reshuffling. In addition to losing DeSalvo and Reider, the office also recently announced the departures of Judy Murphy, chief nursing officer and director of the Office of Clinical Quality and Safety, to IBM Healthcare Global Business Services and Doug Fridsma, chief scientist.

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