Karen DeSalvo to 'maintain leadership' at ONC, agency says

Just call Karen DeSalvo the once and future National Coordinator for Health IT.

ONC, in a Health IT Buzz blog post published Tuesday afternoon, said that DeSalvo, in fact, will not step down as National Coordinator--as the agency announced Oct. 23-- but instead will "maintain her leadership of ONC" while also serving as acting assistant secretary of health with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To that end, according to the post, DeSalvo will continue to serve as chair of the Health IT Policy Committee. Additionally, she will continue to lead efforts to finalize the interoperability road map.

"Importantly, she will continue to work on high-level policy issues at ONC, and ONC will follow the policy direction that she has set," the post reads. It referred to DeSalvo's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health role as a "deployment."

Day-to-day leadership duties at ONC will be handled by ONC Chief Operating Officer Lisa Lewis, who last year served as acting principal deputy national coordinator when David Muntz announced his departure from the agency.

Members of the provider community, since the initial announcement of DeSalvo's departure, had raised concerns about HHS' commitment to health information technology efforts, particularly in light of the fact that Deputy National Coordinator Jacob Reider also announced he will leave ONC next month. Additionally, the agency has lost four other members of the leadership team--Joy Pritts, Lygeia Ricciardi,Judy Murphy and Doug Fridsma--since July, although Pritts' role of chief privacy officer recently was filled by Lucia Savage, former senior associate general counsel at UnitedHealthcare.

ONC, in the blog post, attempted to quash the notion that its recent leadership exodus potentially spelled doom and gloom for federal health IT efforts.

"Most importantly, the team that is ONC is far more than one or two leaders," it says. "The team of ONC is personified in each and every individual--all part of a steady ship and a strong and important part of HHS' path toward delivery system reform and overall health improvement."

To learn more:
- read the Health IT Buzz blog post