DALLAS — Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced Monday that a physician with a long career in health policy and research will become the breast cancer charity's new president and CEO.
Judith A. Salerno will replace Nancy Brinker as CEO of the Dallas-based organization. Brinker, whose promise to her dying sister begat a fundraising powerhouse that has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in cancer research, announced last summer she would step down following an onslaught of criticism over Komen's decision — quickly reversed — to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings.
Salerno, 61, is executive director and chief operating officer of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious independent group that advises the government and private sector about health and science.
"Komen's commitment has helped countless numbers of low-income and medically underserved women and men get care they might otherwise have gone without, and Komen's research program is one of the most highly respected in the nation," Salerno said in a statement.
The appointment of Salerno, with her deep medical background, comes after the embattled Komen foundation saw several executives leave and numbers fall at their fundraising Races for the Cure across the country in the months after the Planned Parenthood controversy. Earlier this month, Komen announced it was canceling half of its three-day charity walks due to a drop in participation levels.
When asked about Salerno's views on Planned Parenthood or the funding controversy, Komen spokeswoman Andrea Rader said the charity was focusing on moving forward.
"That's an issue that was settled a long time ago," Rader said, also describing Salerno as a good fit due to her experience in a range of areas, from public policy to community health.
Leaders of Komen affiliates met Monday's announcement with enthusiasm.
"It looks to me like they did a very, very thorough job and found an ideal candidate," said Dana Curish, executive director for the group's central Indiana affiliate in Indianapolis. "From her background and experience, she sounds like she'll be the perfect person to lead us going forward."
Curish said that a CEO can accomplish a lot just by telling Komen's story.
"What we're doing is unrelated to the Planned Parenthood controversies but those controversies are impacting the dollars that we have available to fund research and to fund services for low-income individuals," Curish said. "We just need to continue to tell that story as best we can.
"If the dollars dry up, so will the breakthroughs," she said.
Brinker founded the charity in honor of her sister, who died of breast cancer in 1980. Its signature color of pink has become synonymous with breast cancer awareness. The 67-year-old announced in August that she would move from the CEO role, which she'd held since 2009, into a new one focused on fundraising and strategic planning.
News broke in late January 2012 about the charity's decision to halt grants to Planned Parenthood, causing a torrent of questions and calls for its reversal. The decision was reversed within days, but ended up angering Komen supporters on both sides of the abortion debate.
Karen Handel, who was hired by Komen as vice president for public policy in April 2011, had been given the task of figuring out how to disengage the charity from Planned Parenthood. She resigned about a week after the decision became public and later wrote a blistering account of the episode in a book titled "Planned Bullyhood."
Komen also recently canceled its 3-day races — in which participants raise at least $2,300 to walk 60 miles over three days — in seven of its 14 cities for next year.
Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero said in a statement Monday it wished Salerno well in her new role, adding, "we're proud of our continued partnerships with Komen and others to ensure that all women, regardless of income, have access to information and high-quality health care to prevent, detect and treat breast cancer."
Salerno is board-certified in internal medicine, earned her M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1985 and a master of science in health policy from Harvard School of Public Health in 1976.