Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a physician who has focused her career toward improving access to affordable, high quality care for all people, especially vulnerable populations, and promoting overall health. She has done this through direct patient care, medical education, policy and administrative roles, research, and public service. Her commitment to improving the public’s health includes leveraging public-private partnerships to address the social determinants of health through environmental, policy and systems level changes.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, which Dr. DeSalvo directs, oversees 12 core public health offices — including the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps — as well as 10 regional health offices across the nation and 10 Presidential and Secretarial advisory committees. The office is charged with leadership in developing policy recommendations as they pertain to public health issues that cut across HHS agencies and operating divisions.
Dr. DeSalvo also served as the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology from January 2014 through August 2016, where she set high level policy and the strategic direction of the office, including efforts related to interoperability. Under her leadership, ONC has advanced interoperability across the health system — which underpins progress on a wide range of Department and Administration priorities. She has also made significant advances to the Health Information Technology Certification Program to promote and expand the safe and secure flow of electronic health information when and where it matters most for individuals and clinicians. During her tenure, ONC has worked with other federal partners and the private sector to update the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and develop a Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, both of which chart a person-centered path for improving health outcomes by unlocking health data through tools like open application programming interfaces (APIs). She has also co-chaired the Department’s Delivery System Reform efforts, which set historic goals and worked to leverage the resources of the Department to build a more person centered health system that encourages more coordinated care.
Before joining the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, she was Health Commissioner for the City of New Orleans, and Senior Health Policy Advisor to New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu, from 2011-2014. While there, she transformed the outmoded health department to one that has since achieved national accreditation and recognition, and restored health care to devastated areas of the city, including leading the establishment of a public hospital.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Dr. DeSalvo was a community leader in building an innovative and award-winning model of neighborhood-based primary care and mental health services for low-income, uninsured and other vulnerable individuals.
Dr. DeSalvo was also a professor of medicine and vice dean for community affairs and health policy at Tulane University School of Medicine. She served as president of the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum, the state’s lead for the health information exchange, and the National Association of Chiefs of General Internal Medicine. She has also served on the boards of the National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Society of General Internal Medicine.
Dr. DeSalvo has received many honors, including recognition as a "Woman of Excellence in Health Care" by the Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus. In 2013, Governing Magazine named Dr. DeSalvo one of nine Public Officials of the Year. The American Medical Student Association recognized her with a Women’s Leader Award in 2014. Modern Healthcare named her one of the 50 most influential physician executives and leaders in 2015 and 2016.
Dr. DeSalvo earned her Medical Doctorate and Master’s in Public Health from Tulane University, and Master's in Clinical Epidemiology from Harvard School of Public Health. She has an honorary doctorate from her alumnus institution, Suffolk University. She was in the National Health Service Corps Scholarship program, an HHS/HRSA program that supports the development of students pursuing primary care health professions who are committed to working in underserved communities.