publication date: Apr. 17, 2020

American Cancer Society announces a wave of furloughs and layoffs as COVID-19 constricts fundraising

By Alexandria Carolan

This story is part of The Cancer Letter’s ongoing coverage of COVID-19’s impact on oncology. A full list of our coverage, as well as the latest meeting cancellations, is available here.

The American Cancer Society earlier this week announced immediate furloughs and layoffs of its staff citing “a significant financial hardship” triggered by the novel coronavirus.

“The American Cancer Society has never faced a threat to our mission like the coronavirus,” the charity said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impeded the American Cancer Society’s annual fundraising activity. Regrettably, this has created a significant financial hardship and is forcing several cost saving measures.

“While we are pulling back in every area, there is no way to close the gap between current revenue and expenses without immediate furloughs and a reduction in workforce over the next several weeks. It is an aggressive timeline with painful outcomes, but it is the only path forward for ACS to conserve the most resources to fund our life-saving mission.”

It’s not publicly known how many staff members will be furloughed, downgraded to part-time work or laid off. ACS currently has about 4,000 employees.

Concurrently with announcing broader staff cuts, the society has terminated the position of Chief Cancer Control Officer Richard C. Wender, a family physician whose role at ACS became unclear after the hiring of William G. Cance to the job of chief medical and scientific officer (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 6, 2019).

At the time of his hiring, Cance was given a role that included oversight of cancer control.

Wender’s role was previously carved out of the portfolio of Otis W. Brawley, the previous chief medical and scientific officer. Brawley left ACS a year earlier (The Cancer Letter, Nov. 9, 2018).

Wender announced his departure in an email to ACS and ACS Cancer Action Network staff April 13.

“I’m writing to share the news that I’ll be leaving the American Cancer Society at the end of the month,” Wender wrote. “The position of chief cancer control officer has been eliminated as part of the reorganization of our integrated global headquarters mission work that Dr. Cance is leading.

“I am humbled and proud to have had the opportunity to serve as this organization’s chief cancer control officer. I took this job to see if, working together, we could accelerate incidence and mortality reductions and reduce suffering from cancer, here and around the world.

“Thanks to the work of a great many people, I can point with satisfaction to measurable and concrete evidence of progress: increases in colorectal cancer screening rates and HPV vaccination rates, new patient navigation collaborations and innovations, risk-stratified survivorship care, low colorectal cancer screening age based on new evolving data, new resources for caregivers, patient programs more focused on improving access to care, new momentum in lung cancer, striving for equity in breast cancer, lowered smoking rates, and so much more.”

The layoffs announced this week follow a reorganization that occurred in February, when ACS brought on Kris Kim, executive vice president for the Northeast Region. As an acting chief operating officer, Kim took over the society’s day-to-day operations, a responsibility relinquished by Chief Executive Officer Gary Reedy (The Cancer Letter, Feb. 20).

“I recognize the need for me to focus my efforts externally, which requires different leadership to oversee day-to-day operations,” Reedy said in an email dated Feb. 5 and addressed to the ACS staff. “To that end, we are embarking on the process of recruiting a chief operating officer.”

Over recent weeks, three senior officials have left the charity. They are: Sharon Byers, chief development and marketing officer; Phil Monaghan, senior vice president, talent strategy; and Bob Crutchfield, the recently recruited managing director of what was described as the charity’s $100 million venture capital fund.

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