DeSalvo steps down from ONC position to aid U.S. Ebola response

October 24, 2014

Former national coordinator named assistant health and human services secretary

Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, has left her position as national coordinator of health IT to become acting assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The change is effective immediately.

In her new role, DeSalvo “will work with the Secretary [of HHS] on pressing public health issues, including becoming a part of the Department’s team responding to Ebola,” according to a written statement from HHS spokesman Peter Ashkenaz. “Dr. DeSalvo has deep roots and a belief in public health and its critical value in assuring the health of everyone, not only in crisis, but every day.”

Succeeding DeSalvo is Lisa Lewis, chief operating officer in the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT. She will have the title of acting national coordinator. DeSalvo will be available to help Lewis and support the work of ONC in her role at HHS, Ashkenaz said in his statement. 

Jacob Reider, MD, the deputy national coordinator, has also announced that he will be leaving his position at the end of November. In an internal message to ONC employees Reider cited his commitment to his family to serve in the position for no more than three years.

Read: ONC's plan to solve the interoperability puzzle: An exclusive interview with Karen DeSalvo

DeSalvo became national coordinator in January of this year. While there she had focused much of her attention on overcoming the barriers to interoperability among electronic health record systems. In an interview with Medical Economics earlier this year, she set forth a goal that “at the end of 10 years, this country will have built an interconnected data and communications system,” and having the basic infrastructure for such a system in place in the next three years.

Before joining ONC DeSalvo was health commissioner for the city of New Orleans. Prior to that she was a professor of medicine and vice dean for community affairs and health policy at Tulane University School of Medicine. While there she helped to establish a network of neighborhood-based primary care and mental health services to serve low-income, uninsured residents following Hurricane Katrina. She has also served as president of the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum and the National Association of Chiefs of General Internal Medicine. She has served on the boards of the National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Society of General Internal Medicine.