Will Komen’s New Leadership Put It Back on Track?

Last week, the Susan G. Komen Foundation named Judith Salerno to replace Nancy Brinker as president and chief executive officer of the breast cancer charity.

In the highly controversial aftermath of the Planned Parenthood defunding debacle in January of 2012, Komen’s announcement comes with a sigh of relief. Although founder and former CEO Brinker will continue to work with Komen, she will be moving to a new post as chair of global strategy.

Salerno has worked for the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies as executive director and chief operating officer as well in other positions at the National Institutes of Health, the Institute on Aging and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. She joins Komen as the breast cancer foundation is seeking to repair its image after a rash decision in early 2012 to no longer provide funding for preventative breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood facilities. While this decision was reversed after three days, the negative impact wreaked havoc on Komen’s reputation as well as Brinker’s stance that Komen was bipartisan and “pro-cure.”

Komen claimed that it was complying with new guidelines that barred the foundation from funding organizations under investigation by Congress, but many believed this to be a political move in line with anti-choice opposition to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Brinker had served as Ambassador to Hungary and chief of protocol under President George W. Bush and continued to be a consistent Republican supporter—support which perhaps shifted Komen’s core focus on women’s health and cancer prevention to the  political terrain of abortion policy. Moreover, Brinker’s decision to hire the anti-abortion Karen Handel as vice president for public policy seemed to be informing policy recommendations. In the week following the controversy and aftermath of the Planned Parenthood decision, Handel resigned.

And most, including fellow board members and Komen affiliates, wanted to see Brinker leave as well. But it wasn’t until August that Brinker officially declared her resignation. At that time, Komen President, Elizabeth Thompson and a few other board members also announced that they, too, were leaving the foundation.

Since the controversy, Komen has suffered drastic drops in donations, funding and support.

On June 3, nearly a year and a half since the Planned Parenthood controversy, Komen announced more cuts: It would be cancelling its 3-Day Walk in Washington, D.C., and six other cities as well as reducing fundraising community events by half due to a nationwide drop in morale and participation. Brinker was curiously still listed as CEO on the Komen Foundation website at the time, even though she had “resigned” from the post ten months prior.

Two weeks later, Komen released a statement that Salerno would replace Brinker as the foundation’s new President and CEO.

Now, with Salerno’s leadership behind the iconic pink ribbons, perhaps Komen will re-direct its course and reclaim the promise Brinker made to her late sister—to further breast cancer research and prevention.

And if there’s anything Salerno can learn from last year’s brouhaha: Keep women’s health first and foremost.

Photo from Flickr user streetsensedc under Creative Commons 2.0