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VA CIO Resigns Amidst Cerner EHR Contract Negotiations

VA CIO Scott Blackburn has resigned in the midst of VA’s ongoing Cerner EHR implementation contract negotiations.

VA CIO Scott Blackburn has resigned in the middle of Cerner EHR contract negotiations.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- VA CIO Scott Blackburn has resigned — effective immediately — with the federal department’s Cerner EHR contract still short of finalization, according to Federal News Radio.

Blackburn had been serving as the department’s acting CIO since October 2017 and had played a significant part in launching VA’s replacement of the homegrown VistA system with a commercial Cerner EHR.

“It has been the honor of my professional life to serve as a senior leader in the Department of Veterans Affairs,” wrote Blackburn in his resignation letter. “I came to Washington because I wanted to make a difference; I am very proud of what we have accomplished.”

VA has not yet named a replacement for Blackburn, a VA spokesperson told Federal News Radio. Blackburn has not specified the reason for his resignation.

“My effort has always been about better caring for Veterans regardless of Presidential administration, Republican or Democrat—and I have been honored to serve alongside both in a bipartisan way,” stated Blackburn. “I want to thank Secretary McDonald and Secretary Shulkin for creating these tremendous opportunities.”

Blackburn’s resignation leaves another gap in VA leadership.

Most recently, Blackburn follows VA Secretary David Shulkin’s departure from the federal department in March. President Trump fired Shulkin following accusations from VA’s Inspector General that Shulkin had improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The speculation surrounding his future had become a distraction, according to White House officials.

Department of Defense (DoD) Undersecretary Robert Wilkie is currently serving as the Acting VA Secretary in Shulkin’s absence. President Trump has nominated presidential physician and US Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson to take Shulkin’s place. Jackson has been working as the presidential physician since the George W. Bush Administration.

Acting officials now hold a significant portion of top VA leadership positions including secretary, undersecretary for Veterans Health Administration, and undersecretary for Veterans Benefits Administration, according to Federal News Radio.

 “I will remain both VA’s biggest cheerleader and critic from afar,” wrote Blackburn.

“I remain optimistic about the future—as I know that no matter what, VA will continue to be held up by the 360,000 plus dedicated public servants serving veterans every day so many of which are veterans themselves; and I know veterans, veteran advocates, veterans service organizations, and lawmakers will keep VA leadership in check and accountable,” he continued.

The department has not yet named an acting CIO to take Blackburn’s place. VA Principal Deputy CIO Bill James is now the senior official at the VA Office of Information and Technology, a VA spokesperson told FCW.

Blackburn’s resignation comes during ongoing efforts to finalize the VA Cerner implementation contract.

During a recent House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, House Military Construction and VA Appropriations subcommittee Ranking Member and Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL) revealed the cost of VA’s EHR modernization project had spiked from an estimated $10 billion to around $16 billion.

VA is still working to build a contract with Cerner that encourages the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standards to enable interoperability with the private sector.

At an investment community meeting presentation at HIMSS18, Cerner executives disclosed that the EHR implementation will include a total of 48 deployment waves, as well as initial operating capability (IOC) deployment.

The department’s deployment is intended to align with DoD’s MHS GENESIS deployment to allow departments to share resources, cut costs, and optimize interoperability between systems.

Pending that contract negotiations are soon finalized, Cerner plans to go live with the EHR implementation at VA IOC sites toward the end of 2019.

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