The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has had a busy year – ranging from the troubled rollout of the agency’s Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program to the need for a new supply chain management system.
As the year comes to an end, MeriTalk is taking a look back at the VA’s 2022 and highlighting the agency’s highs and lows.
VA Gets a New CIO
Kurt DelBene officially started as the VA’s new chief information officer (CIO) this year, after the Senate confirmed his nomination in December 2021. DelBene has been very transparent about the VA’s struggles and success, and has noted that the VA could have done a better job in its EHRM training. However, DelBene has also explained that the EHRM rollout itself is “an enormous” task that’s bound to come with lessons learned along the way – and the agency is looking for better performance in coming expansions of the program.
Additionally, DelBene said the agency still has “work to do” to set a proper modernization pace, and could benefit from more modernization funding. Along those same lines, he has said that the agency is not spending enough on cybersecurity, and would benefit from being able to pay higher salaries in order to recruit and retain cyber experts (which may become a reality in the new year).
All this to say, DelBene has served as a strong advocate and leader for the VA and its tech needs, and has helped the agency to identify problem areas in 2022.
VA Looks to Hire More Tech Workers, Higher Salaries in Sight
As Silicon Valley companies continue to lay off thousands of tech workers, VA is actively recruiting many of those facing layoffs – and may soon be able to pay them a salary more comparable to private sector levels. DelBene told reporters this month that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is nearing “final approval” on a government-wide Special Salary Rate (SSR), which would bump tech salaries up to be “more commensurate with what’s in the private sector.”
DelBene said the target for the final approval of the SSR is “very early in the new year,” and the VA is hoping for it to cross the finish line in January. So, stay tuned!
VA Moves off DMLSS System, Looks for New Solution
In December, the VA announced it is transitioning away from its supply chain management system – the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support (DMLSS) – and is in the market for a new solution contract. The VA adopted the $2.6 billion DMLSS system from the Defense Health Agency (DHA) in 2019, but the agency is now reducing the scope and funding of its interagency agreement with DHA.
To ensure it creates a supply chain solution that improves the veteran experience, VA is canceling future DMLSS deployments. The agency said it expects a new supply chain logistics solution contract by 2023. In the coming months, VA will also establish the new Office of Enterprise Supply Chain Modernization to oversee the transformation effort.
Congress Urges VA to Pause EHRM Deployments
It’s no secret that the VA’s EHRM program has come under fire throughout the last year. The program has faced underreported costs, deficiencies in training, and diminished employee morale. Additionally, VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports have revealed the program has resulted in cases of patient harm and patient care issues.
Lawmakers implored VA earlier this year to pause any further deployments of the EHRM system until issues are addressed at the existing deployment sites. The members of Congress argued that the agency must address the existing concerns with the EHRM system, such as pharmacy and prescription errors, unannounced shutdowns, and a growing backlog of tickets, among others.
Some members of Congress this year referred to the program as a “train wreck,” and others said Congress may have to “seriously consider pulling the plug” on the project.
Biden Signs VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act
In June, President Biden signed the VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act into law, which aims to increase the transparency of the EHRM program through regular reporting requirements. The legislation calls on the VA for periodic reporting on the costs, performance metrics, and outcomes of its EHRM program.
VA Pauses EHRM Deployments Through June 2023
The VA made the decision in October to delay further deployments of its Oracle Cerner EHR system until June 2023 to address concerns with the system, assess performance, and ensure it functions effectively for veterans and VA healthcare personnel. This decision came after multiple other delays to certain deployments sites.
VA plans to continue to work closely with Oracle Cerner to resolve issues with the system’s performance, maximize usability for VA healthcare providers, and ensure its users are served by an effective records system that supports their needs. Additionally, the agency said it will continue to focus on the five facilities where the new system has already been deployed to ensure every patient is getting effective service and care.
We look forward to bringing you more news soon about how the VA’s EHRM deployments play out in 2023.