The leader of the statewide effort to boost cancer care in Georgia resigned on Friday, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Friday. The move seems almost certain to delay an announcement of funding for proposed regional cancer networks, such as the joint Athens-Augusta program and one centered around Savannah.
Russ Toal, who had been tapped by then-Gov. Roy Barnes to lead the Georgia Cancer Coalition after it was formed in 2000, resigned as president "to entertain other job opportunities," Mr. Perdue's office announced.
"His leadership will be missed," Mr. Perdue said in a statement. "I wish him the very best as he moves forward."
The news surprised some in Augusta who had drawn up the East Georgia Cancer Network, which had been awarded one of three initial Regional Programs of Excellence earlier this year. In a related proposal, Medical College of Georgia and the University of Georgia at Athens had been awarded provisional designation as a Center of Excellence for its proposed Georgia Cancer Research Center. Mr. Toal said last month that he hoped to have those programs refined to address concerns from an outside expert panel in time to announce the funding decisions by October. That funding comes through the state's share of the tobacco settlement and Mr. Toal had been working with the governor's Office of Planning and Budget on those allocations.
"That will probably slow things down a bit," said Cindy Lunsford, vice president for community services at University Hospital and one of those shepherding the local initiative.
Mr. Toal, a former Commissioner of the Department of Community Health, had personified the coalition. He did not immediately return a call to his office late Friday afternoon but had earlier sent an e-mail saying he "may have some news for you."
The $1 billion initiative envisioned taking $300 million to $400 million in tobacco funds and using that to attract private and foundation funding to encourage innovative and comprehensive cancer treatment across the state. It was also expected to fund up to 150 new researchers and turn Georgia into a hotbed for cancer discoveries.