Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies expressed their frustrations with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program today and urged the agency to repair the program one lawmaker called a “train wreck.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is a senator who is quite familiar with the troubles of the VA’s EHRM program, as he serves as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. During today’s hearing, Sen. Tester expressed his concerns with the program, which he said, “needs to start delivering at some time.”

“I am concerned. We’re into this damn near five years – it’ll be five years in May – and we’re still truthfully, I mean, we haven’t done a damn thing,” Sen. Tester said. “I mean, we’ve implemented and it has been a train wreck, in my opinion.”

“The question really is here… you guys have to be working really, really close with these [Oracle-Cerner] folks. They have to be held accountable. They have to hold themselves accountable. You have to hold yourselves accountable. And we need to get this damn thing done.”

Approximately four months ago, Oracle acquired Cerner – the company that the VA awarded a 10-year, $10 billion contract in 2018 to help create an interoperable EHR system for the agency.

VA announced in July that it would delay the rollout of its EHRM program at another deployment site as it waits on Oracle-Cerner to address system stability issues. The VA does not have any plans to deploy the EHRM program at another site until 2023.

Mike Sicilia, the executive vice president at Oracle, said these delays have put the VA and Oracle-Cerner on an “aggressive time schedule,” to deliver a modern EHR system by 2028.

VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy emphasized that the VA is holding itself and Oracle-Cerner accountable by hitting “pause” on all future deployments until 2023 “to get this right.” Remy added that “the problems are real enough that we’re not moving forward until we resolve some of them.”

“I am glad VA is not rushing deployments until there’s more confidence in the likelihood of success, but the department needs to be straightforward with Congress about what is reasonable and achievable,” Chairman Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said. “This effort is too important and needs to succeed.”

“It’s your responsibility now to either figure it out and move forward, or figure out a different way to go,” Sen. Tester said to Remy.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.