VA taps senior ONC official to lead EHR overhaul

A senior health IT official with the Department of Health and Human Services will lead a massive project to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs’ electronic medical records system.

Genevieve Morris, the principal deputy national coordinator for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), will oversee the VA’s new Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization (OEHRM), the VA announced Thursday. The office will work closely with the VA’s undersecretary for health and chief information officer to transition the VA from the current Vista system to Cerner.

“OEHRM, the Veterans Health Administration and the Office of Information and Technology will continue to collaborate closely to ensure this important transition is as smooth as possible for our Veterans, clinicians and staff,” Morris said in a statement. “We are working hard to configure and design a system focused on quality, safety and patient outcomes, which will allow health IT innovations within one VA facility to be used across the entire VA health-care system.” 

The appointment comes weeks after lawmakers on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs raised concerns that the VA still hadn’t filled leadership holes necessary to implement the 10-year, $16 billion project. VA Acting CIO Scott Blackburn, who abruptly resigned in April, was replaced by Camilo Sandoval, the former director of data operations for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Genevieve Morris
Genevieve Morris (HHS/ONC)

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On Thursday, the House Committee approved the creation of a new subcommittee to oversee the implementation project. The Subcommittee on Technology Modernization will be chaired by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.

Morris will take on a massive implementation project that is scheduled to begin in October at three VA hospitals in the Pacific Northwest. Those sites are slated to go live in March 2020, VA Acting Secretary Peter O’Rourke told House members last month.

Experts have pointed to a host of implementation challenges, some of which were detailed in a scathing Department of Defense report that outlined problems with the agency’s own Cerner implementation. Several lawmakers have noted that government IT projects rarely finish on time or under budget.

RELATED: VA signs $10B deal with Cerner, but implementation challenges still loom large

Morris, recently named one of FierceHealthcare’s eight influential women in health IT, has spent her career focusing on interoperability. At ONC, she led the agency’s effort to develop a Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement.

An ONC spokesperson told FierceHealthcare Morris “is being detailed 100% to VA."

“We have a strong team here at ONC that has been working with Dr. Rucker and her on the TEF and Common Agreement and nothing changes in that effort, along with the other work we are doing to implement Cures,” the spokesperson said.