Health adviser leaving New Orleans City Hall

Dr. Karen DeSalvo Show caption
Dr. Karen DeSalvo

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the city’s health commissioner, will be leaving her job in the Landrieu administration next month to take a top post with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, promoting the implementation of electronic health records across the nation.

A former Tulane University medical professor, DeSalvo became a key figure after Hurricane Katrina in transforming how the poor and uninsured receive health care. She helped expand primary care clinics around the New Orleans area, rapidly built out with the help of a large infusion of federal money.

She continued this work when Mayor Mitch Landrieu appointed her as his senior health adviser in 2011, most recently helping extend funding for low-income people to receive treatment at the community health centers.

In a news release, the Landrieu administration touted her work helping rebuild the former Methodist Hospital in New Orleans East and implementing other public health programs, like Fit NOLA, which seeks to encourage exercise and good eating habits in what surveys rank as one of the unhealthiest cities in the country.

This fall, Governing Magazine named DeSalvo one of its public officials of the year.

At the federal health agency, DeSalvo will become the national coordinator for health information technology.

Both the government and private industry have placed a lot of emphasis on improving electronic medical records and other technology efforts, with the federal health agency banking on the idea that providing medical personnel with better information about patients will help reduce the cost of health care over the long term.

As New Orleans health commissioner, DeSalvo has been involved in an effort to link the health clinics’ electronic medical records with each other and with area hospitals — a fact noted by DHH Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in her announcement.

“Throughout her career, Dr. DeSalvo has advocated increasing the use of health information technology to improve access to care, the quality of care, and overall population health outcomes — including efforts post-Katrina to redesign the health system with (health information technology) as a foundational element,” Sebelius wrote.

DeSalvo’s departure is the second change to top personnel in the Landrieu administration this week. The Sewerage & Water Board earlier this week voted to hire Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant as that agency’s executive director.

After DeSalvo leaves her post on Jan. 10, Charlotte Parent, the Health Department’s deputy director, will take over the agency, according to a city news release.