One aspect of the EHRS that has remained on schedule is the Joint Health Information Exchange, which went live on April 18. The shared DoD/VA system provides the departments with bidirectional sharing of health data with community partners. Not only can the departments now quickly and securely access data for patients who have been seen by community health providers, but it gives those providers a single platform to access their patients’ VA and DoD medical records.
“The COVID-19 pandemic underlines the importance for clinicians on the front lines to quickly access a patient’s health record of where that patient has previously received care,” explained Neil Evans, MD, the interim director of the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization program office.
In the midst of the EHRS delay, VA has appointed Pamela Powers as its new acting deputy VA secretary, replacing James Byrne who was unexpectedly fired in February. Powers will become the highest-ranking VA official in charge of the EHRM project. Prior to this appointment, Powers served as VA chief of staff. Before that, she served as chief of staff to Wilkie when he was the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
“Pam has quarterbacked VA’s historic transformation for the better part of the last two years,” Wilkie said. “Her deep experience and decisive leadership style will yield tremendous results.”
The exact reasons behind the firing of her predecessor remain unclear. At the time of Byrne’s dismissal, Wilkie said that it was “due to a loss of confidence to carry out his duties.” Later, he called it a “simple business decision.”
Just prior to Byrne’s dismissal, Wilkie had made headlines for comments made regarding a sexual assault allegation by Navy veteran and senior House VA Committee staffer Andrea Goldstein. Goldstein alleged that she was assaulted and harassed by a patient at the DC VAMC in September 2019. The VA inspector general closed their investigation without bringing charges. In a letter to Rep. Takano, Wilkie called Goldstein’s claims “unsubstantiated.”
The dismissive tone of the letter drew a furious response from Takano, as well as an immediate clarification from VA Inspector General Mike Missal, who released a statement saying the IG had never said the claims were unsubstantiated and that he had warned Byrne and Powers specifically from drawing such conclusions. Byrne was released two weeks later.Shortly afterward, allegations surfaced that Wilkie had worked to actively discredit Goldstein. The VA IG has since announced that they are opening a formal investigation into those allegations and Wilkie’s actions surrounding the incident.