Morris resignation could signal trouble with VA EHR plans

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has lost a key IT architect who had been working to ensure that the VA’s planned rollout of a $10 billion Cerner electronic health record system comes off without a hitch.

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.

Morris served as principal deputy national coordinator, leading interoperability efforts at ONC, and in July assumed the role of chief health information officer for the VA’s Office of EHR Modernization—only to resign weeks later.

Morris announced her departure on Twitter, providing a copy of her resignation letter submitted Friday morning to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

“Over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that VA’s leadership intends to take the EHR modernization effort in a different direction than we were headed, and since my service as CHIO was always intended to be an interim solution, I am offering my resignation to the administration effective immediately,” Morris wrote to Azar and Wilkie, without providing specifics.

Morris came to ONC in May 2017 as principal deputy national coordinator at ONC. She had worked extensively with the agency, and is a subject expert in areas such as health IT policy, program management, interoperability, meaningful use and the Quality Payment Program within MACRA, as well as ONC certification processes. Previous to that, Morris held several posts since 2011 at consulting firm Audacious Inquiry, which has done research and consulting work to support ONC.

Morris had been working at the VA Office of EHR Modernization to ensure that the agency’s implementation of the Cerner Millennium platform, which will replace the decades-old Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, is as smooth as possible. However, her resignation could signal trouble early on with the program as it begins to plan the rollout of the system.

Neither Morris nor VA officials were available for comment. Her departure comes at a time when the VA’s Office of Information Technology is grappling with how to fill hundreds of staffing vacancies, according to Congress, which is looking to provide rigorous oversight of the agency’s EHR modernization.

Also See: New House subcommittee to hold VA EHR program accountable

The VA announced that John Windom has been appointed acting CHIO of the Office of EHR Modernization to replace Morris, who is the latest in a series of senior executive changes that have plagued the VA.

President Trump named Wilkie the agency’s acting secretary in late March, following the ouster of then-VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD. And, in April, acting chief information officer Scott Blackburn resigned from his duties. Then, in May, the VA finally awarded Cerner the $10 billion EHR modernization contract, after nearly a year of negotiations between the agency and the vendor.

Currently, the system implementation for the initial operating capability sites is planned to begin October 1, with an estimated completion date of March 2020. Cerner’s EHR will be rolled out enterprisewide as part of a 10-year contract.

According to the latest VA data provided to Congress, the total cost to implement the new EHR system over 10 years will be $15.8 billion—$10 billion for the Cerner contract, $4.6 billion for infrastructure improvements, as well as $1.2 billion for contractor program management support services.

The VA intends to create a single common EHR system with the Department of Defense by leveraging a shared Cerner Millennium platform. The agency’s planned acquisition calls for aligning the deployment and implementation of the system with DoD’s ongoing rollout of its own system—called MHS GENESIS, which is in the pilot phase.

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