Congressman voices concerns about VA Office of EHR Modernization

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Responding to the recent departures of senior leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs, a House subcommittee chairman is worried that the VA office in charge of EHR modernization is floundering.

Last month, the VA established the Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization to oversee the preparation, deployment and maintenance of a new Cerner EHR system, which will replace the agency’s decades-old Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture.

However, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie expressing his “great concern” about the agency’s “deteriorating and rudderless leadership” and its ability to manage a $10 billion Cerner EHR contract.

“The resignation of the Chief Health Information Officer, the program’s top leader, comes only three days after the resignation of the Chief Medical Officer,” Banks wrote to Wilkie. “As a result, at most half of the program’s senior leadership positions are occupied, and its rank-and-file positions are only sparsely filled, primarily with detailees. This comes at a time when VA is making the most pivotal decisions as to the design of the Cerner EHR system.”

CMO Ash Zenooz, MD, announced her resignation last Tuesday. And, CHIO Genevieve Morris, a Trump administration political appointee who was on loan to the VA from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, resigned abruptly from both agencies on Friday.

“Despite several requests, I was not even able to meet with the EHRM leadership team before these departures,” according to Banks.

For her part, Morris had been working at the VA Office of EHR Modernization to ensure that the agency’s Cerner implementation went as smoothly as possible. However, Morris indicated in her resignation letter that she was resigning because the “VA’s leadership intends to take the EHR modernization effort in a different direction than we were headed.”

Also See: Morris resignation could signal trouble with VA EHR plans

The VA announced that John Windom has been appointed acting CHIO of the Office of EHR Modernization to replace Morris.

“We are pleased that John Windom will now take over as Acting CHIO for OEHRM,” said VA Secretary Wilkie in a written statement. “John is a recently retired Navy captain who played a key leadership role in the Pentagon’s electronic health record modernization efforts, and in leading VA’s negotiations with Cerner over the last year.”

Nonetheless, in his letter to Wilkie, Banks urged him to identify a permanent CHIO immediately who “possesses the requisite medical and technical knowledge and demonstrates managerial competency for such a large EHR transition.” In addition, Banks urged the VA secretary to pick a CMO from within the Veterans Health Administration, insisting that “it is crucial that this person commands the respect of the VHA workforce, as he or she must represent its views in the extremely sensitive task of redesigning clinical processes.”

Further, Banks requested that Wilkie provide the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization with a detailed organizational chart for the VA Office of EHR Modernization, listing each federal position and full-time contractor while “indicating the name of each position’s incumbent or its vacant status” by September 7.

Last month, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs formally approved the creation of the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization—with Banks as its chairman—to provide oversight of the VA’s rollout of the Cerner Millennium platform.

“It would be a tragedy for the program to be undermined by personality conflicts and bureaucratic power struggles before it even begins in earnest,” Banks told Wilkie. “I am dedicated to pursuing a constructive oversight agenda to encourage VA to make the right decisions, but any engagement is difficult without stable leadership.”

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