ONC chief Karen DeSalvo, MD, has been nominated by President Obama to the post of Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. If she is confirmed by the Senate, she would step down as National Coordinator for Health IT, a post she has held since January 2014.
She would be the first national coordinator to leave the post having served for less than two years.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell drafted DeSalvo in October 2014 to serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health to oversee the country's Ebola response and other public health issues.
Since then, DeSalvo has divided her time between the HHS and ONC posts. At ONC, her most recent work has been focused on interoperability, releasing a draft roadmap for interoperability on Jan. 30. In April, DeSalvo called out information blockers in a blog she wrote with Jodi G. Daniel, ONC's director of the Office of Policy Planning. ONC also notified Congress of the practice, noting that an examination of the issue was both timely and warranted.
[See also: ONC calls for interoperability by 2017.]
Burwell shared the news of DeSalvo's nomination in a note to HHS staff.
"Karen’s nomination now goes to the Senate for confirmation," Burwell wrote. "As the Senate process moves forward, Karen will serve again as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health. At the same time, as her confirmation is pending, she will continue to serve as the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Please join me in congratulating Karen, and wishing her the best as the confirmation process begins."
Before joining ONC, DeSalvo was health commissioner for the city of New Orleans. She is widely credited with keeping public health entities operational during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and rebuilding when the storm was over.
Over her career, DeSalvo has focused on improving access to affordable, quality care for all, especially vulnerable populations, and promoting overall health. She has done this through direct patient care, medical education, policy and administrative roles, research, and public service.
[See also: ONC chief's early years inform her work.]
Before joining ONC, she was Health Commissioner for the City of New Orleans, and Senior Health Policy Advisor to New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu, from 2011-2014. While there, she transformed the outmoded health department to one that has since achieved national accreditation, and restored healthcare to devastated areas of the city, including leading the establishment of a public hospital.
Following Hurricane Katrina, DeSalvo was a community leader in building an innovative and award-winning model of neighborhood-based primary care and mental health services for low-income, uninsured and other vulnerable individuals that boasts a sophisticated health IT infrastructure.
DeSalvo was also a professor of medicine and vice dean for community affairs and health policy at Tulane University School of Medicine. She served as president of the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum, the state’s lead for the health information exchange, and the National Association of Chiefs of General Internal Medicine. She has also served on the boards of the National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Society of General Internal Medicine.