Senate confirms former marine James Gfrerer as Veterans Affairs CIO

Gfrerer, who advocated keeping the proprietary VistA Veterans Affairs EHR during his hearing, will lead the multi-billion dollar modernization project.
By Diana Manos
02:10 PM
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The Senate confirmed James Gfrerer, a former marine and cybersecurity executive at Ernst & Young, to head the agency’s IT department — a position that has been without a permanent leader for the past two years.

WHY IT MATTERS

The assignment comes as the VA is in the throes of a $10 billion, 10-year overhaul from VistA to Cerner’s EHR — arguably the largest health IT undertaking in history.

Gfrerer’s predecessor, Scott Blackburn, resigned as interim CIO last May, after four years of leadership on a wide range of technology projects. President Donald Trump temporarily filled the position with Camilo Sandoval, former data operations director for his campaign.

Gfrerer will have his hands full, as the VA officially signed with Cerner on the EHR modernization project last May, after nearly a year of speculation that it would.  The Cerner EHR at the VA will be similar to the one currently in the pilot phase at the Department of Defense, and both agencies said last May they will work together to learn what can be gleaned from the new implementation.

VA officials expect pilot sites for the Cerner implementation to go live in the Pacific Northwest by 2020.

The VA – in the public spotlight in the past for VistA’s interoperability failures -- will be adding mental health to the new Cerner EHR capabilities. The new EHR will allow for seamless data sharing between community providers and the agency, the VA said last spring.

THE BIGGER TREND

During his senate confirmation hearing Sept. 6, Gfrerer pledged to fix cybersecurity at the VA and advocated maintaining VistA during the 10-year process to implement the new Cerner EHR.

"I've read the OIG report on [VistA’s] material weakness. It's a sustained pattern of unpreparedness,” Gfrerer told the Senate committee last fall. “As someone who has their personal health information in the VA system, and even if it was Lance Corporal Gfrerer, I would be pretty hot under the collar if there were continued material weaknesses and insecurity." 

Nonetheless, Gferer will be charged with seeing the Cerner implementation through in the future. 

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana said at the Senate confirmation hearing that the new implementation of the Cerner EHR, “…is really going to make or break the VA going forward.”

Gfrerer told the committee he’ll keep officials accountable to the projected milestones for the project, using a “scorecard” method to monitor the progress of the EHR project and other IT work.

In October, we reported that Cerner named Accenture, Leidos and AbleVets among the vendors that will support the project throughout the projected 10-year timeframe. “This is the beginning of a long transformational journey,” Travis Dalton, president of Cerner Government Services, said in a statement. “We’ll continue to seek and bring the best talent available to the VA.”

The transition to the Cerner platform has all eyes on it, no less those of Congress, who have been monitoring the project from the start – urging the VA to use the Interagency Program Office for a single point of governance. 

Diana Manos is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance writer specializing in healthcare, wellness and technology. 

Twitter: @Diana_Manos
Email the writer: dnewsprovider@gmail.com 

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