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Congress: “Malign Neglect” Impedes VA Cerner EHR Contract

Congressional Democrats recently penned a letter condemning VA leadership for delays in VA Cerner EHR contract negotiations.

Congressional members take issue with the Acting VA CIO appointment and VA Cerner EHR contract delays.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- Members of Congress issued a letter to VA Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman stating their disapproval for the way VA Cerner EHR contract negotiations have been carried out and expressing concern over the appointment of Acting VA CIO Camilo Sandoval.

Federal lawmakers wrote they are “deeply concerned by the malign neglect” demonstrated throughout the federal agency’s attempt to implement a new Cerner EHR system to promote interoperability between VA and the Department of Defense (DoD.)

“This is evident through the failure to obtain qualified leadership for the Office of Information Technology (OIT), reports of political interference hindering EHR implementation, as well as the rampant vacancies for positions that ensure proper oversight of a new EHR system,” the members of Congress wrote.

“We ask that you swiftly resolve our concerns and ensure an interoperable VA EHR system with the Department of Defense expeditiously comes to fruition,” the federal lawmakers continued.

Members of Congress stated they are disappointed with the decision to temporarily appoint Sandoval as CIO given Sandoval’s previous experience as the Director of Data Operations during the 2016 Trump campaign. He Trump campaign was contracting with Cambridge Analytica at that time.

“Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of personal information from tens of millions of Americans, including veterans, was an incredible breach of trust,” wrote the senators and representatives. “As such, Mr. Sandoval’s role in these activities must be thoroughly examined and he should be put nowhere near veteran’s health and benefits.”

Federal lawmakers also suggested Sandoval should be disqualified for serving as acting CIO because of his entanglement in a $25 million lawsuit. Sandoval is charged with slander, harassment, and sexual discrimination in violation of New York City human rights laws.

“Likewise, his previous conflicts while working at the Department of Treasury and Veterans Health Administration raise serious red flags and indicate a history of rampant interpersonal conflicts with co-workers,” members of Congress wrote.

“Mr. Sandoval should be removed from his temporary position as CIO and replaced with a first class leader who is capable of implementing the VA’s EHR modernization and fulfilling the VA’s obligation to our nation’s heroes,” continued the senators and representatives.

Members of Congress also called out VA for reports that Cerner EHR contract negotiations were delayed in part because of inappropriate outside interference by President Trump’s personal friend Bruce Moskowitz, MD.

Moskowitz is a Florida physician with no ties to VA.

“This $16 billion overhaul requires input from specialized professionals to align the two largest federal agencies with an interoperable system,” emphasized the federal lawmakers.

Reports that DoD’s own EHR modernization implementation is neither operational nor suitable further underscore the importance of thoroughly understanding the risks and requirements inherent to an implementation project of this magnitude.

Members of Congress requested VA provide an update on the status of the EHR implementation contract, including all communications between the federal agency, Moskowitz, and any other outside individual who has influenced or provided input on the project.

“The VA has 33,000 vacancies agency wide, including 553 within OIT,” stated the letter. “In the last four months alone, nearly 40 senior staffers have resigned, effectively stalling operations in essential areas such as information technology.”

Federal lawmakers urged VA to quickly hire experts capable of filling VA vacancies.

“In order to provide world-class service to our veterans, VA must be fully staffed with driven, capable leaders,” the senators and representatives wrote. “Current VA employees, who are dedicated to serving and honoring our veterans, our forced to shoulder the work of former-colleagues—contributing to low morale among the VA workforce.”

The massive EHR modernization effort requires a full and capable staff, members of Congress maintained.

“The need for VA’s EHR modernization cannot be overstated,” said the federal lawmakers.

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