Originally created 09/27/03

Cancer coalition official resigns



The leader of the statewide effort to boost cancer care in Georgia resigned Friday, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced.

The move seems almost certain to delay an announcement of funding for proposed regional cancer networks, such as the joint Athens-Augusta program and the 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 named one of three initial Regional Programs of Excellence earlier this year. In a related proposal, the 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 in 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, the vice president for community services at University Hospital and one of those shepherding the local initiative.

"I don't really know what that will do to the time line," said Dr. David Stern, the dean of the School of Medicine at MCG and co-principal investigator for the center proposal. "I think one suspicion would be if there is going to be a change in organization that it could delay things. My real hope is that the commitment to do it is there."

Mr. Toal, a former Commissioner of the Department of Community Health, did not return a call to his office late Friday afternoon.

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 also was expected to fund as many as 150 new researchers and turn Georgia into a hotbed for cancer discoveries.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan and cancer survivor and former Carter Administration official Hamilton Jordan will head up a committee to review the overall mission of the coalition.

Mr. Toal announced Thursday that the Institute of Medicine will spend a year studying the coalition and helping it craft goals and measurements of progress.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.