DeSalvo to get Senate nomination hearing for HHS job

Would Senate confirmation mean DeSalvo must leave ONC post?
By Tom Sullivan
07:47 AM
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Karen DeSalvo, MD

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is scheduled to hold a hearing on Karen DeSalvo, MD.

According to the Senate HELP Committee's website, in fact, the "nomination of Karen DeSalvo to be Assistant Secretary for Health, Health and Human Services," is on the agenda for Thursday Aug. 6, 2015.

DeSalvo is currently in the unusual position of simultaneously holding down two high-profile federal government jobs.    

Within HHS, she has been Acting Assistant Secretary since May 2015 when President Barack Obama appointed her, a nod that came after HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell asked DeSalvo to join her and spearhead the fight against Ebola. DeSalvo's second post is atop Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, a helm she took officially in January 2014.

At stake on Thursday is whether the Senate HELP Committee will nominate DeSalvo. Should that happen proceedings will lead to a full Senate vote in the future. And if the Senate confirms DeSalvo as Assistant Secretary then the central question to hospital and health IT professionals will be whether or not she officially leaves ONC.  

When DeSalvo began as acting ASH at HHS, back in October 2014, neither HHS nor ONC was entirely clear on what exactly it meant for her future as national coordinator. That confusion lasted long enough to draw criticism from the American Medical Association for creating a "leadership gap" at ONC with the potential to hinder interoperability and meaningful use progress. 

ONC followed with a post on Health IT Buzz blog, explaining that DeSalvo would "continue to work on high-level policy issues at ONC," still chair the HIT Policy Committee and drive the development of the 10-year interoperability roadmap.

But ONC also said then that COO Lisa Lewis was taking over as Acting National Coordinator and Lewis still holds both titles according to her ONC bio.

In the time since, DeSalvo has continued to effectively champion interoperability with both the roadmap, officially titled Connecting Health and Care for the Nation: A Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap Draft Version 1.0, and the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020.

Prior to ONC, DeSalvo was the New Orleans Health Commissioner and earned considerable praise for her work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Before that DeSalvo was a professor of medicine and vice dean for community affairs and health policy at Tulane University School of Medicine.