Lawmakers question VA's EHR modernization effort amid leadership turmoil

Shortly after Genevieve Morris, chief health information officer of the Veterans Affairs Department's Office for EHR Modernization, resigned from her post Aug. 24, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie expressing "great concern about the deteriorating and rudderless leadership" of the project, according to Military Times.

The departure comes just months before the VA hoped for an initial EHR launch on Oct. 1, according to NextGov.

"It would be a tragedy for the program to be undermined by personality conflicts and bureaucratic power struggles before it even begins in earnest," Mr. Banks, who serves as chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, wrote. "In fact, despite several requests, I was not even able to meet with the EHR [modernization] leadership team before these departures."

VA signed a 10-year, $10-billion contract with Cerner to overhaul its legacy systems in May, putting the agency on the same health records systems as the Defense Department, whose Cerner rollout has been criticized as "neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable" in a report from the DOD's Operational Test and Evaluation office. VA established the OEHRM in late June to manage the preparation, deployment and maintenance of the VA's Cerner system.

The transition was delayed for several months after former VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, was fired from the agency. The agency has faced numerous leadership changes since, but VA officials do not expect addition delays or complications with the project, according to Military Times.

However, in her resignation letter, Ms. Morris wrote the agency "intends to take the EHR modernization effort in a different direction than we were headed." Ms. Morris did not provide additional details on how the project has changed.

Mr. Wilkie has appointed John Windom, executive director of the OEHRM, to replace Ms. Morris in an acting capacity, NextGov reports. Mr. Windom previously worked on the Pentagon's EHR project.

In his letter, Mr. Banks wrote he wants answers from the agency: "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."

Mr. Banks also requested Mr. Wilkie provide an unredacted organizational chart of the OEHRM, including contractors and vacancies, by Sept. 7.

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