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DHEC director cites health issues, family concerns in resignation

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Rick Toomey said recent health problems, coupled with a desire to spend more time with his first grandson, led to his decision to resign as director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control in the midst of the state agency’s battle against COVID-19.

Toomey, 65, took a medical leave of absence in late March, citing chest pain that sent him to the hospital and ongoing blood pressure issues.

“With my recent health experience that is under control and doing well, it made me take a step back to assess where I want to be in my life at this point in time,” Toomey said in announcing his resignation at a DHEC board meeting Wednesday afternoon. “ … It is a very difficult decision, because I have grown to love, to admire the effort and the individuals that make up DHEC.”

Toomey, who said he verbally informed the agency of his decision on May 24, also said he wants to spend more in time in Beaufort with his first grandchild.

Toomey acknowledged DHEC efforts during the past three months to fight COVID-19 and praised its response. The agency is testing all residents and staff in state nursing homes for the virus and has spearheaded a series of mobile clinics that have allowed it to meet its goal of testing 2% of the state’s population by the end of May.

“The agency is in a great place with great leadership, great individual employees,” Toomey said in the live-streamed board meeting. “We’ve gone through – the state has, the nation has – gone through some really challenging times over the last three months. We are in a better place today than we were a month, two months ago. We still have a long way to go.”

On Thursday, DHEC announced 156 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths, bringing S.C.’s reported totals to 10,788 cases and 470 deaths.

Toomey’s last day will be June 10. Marshall Taylor, DHEC’s chief counsel, will run the agency until a new director – DHEC’s fourth since 2012 – is found.

Toomey was named DHEC director in December 2018. The agency was without a permanent director for more than year after Catherine Heigel stepped down in July 2017.

Toomey, a Greenville native, served as CEO of Beaufort Memorial Hospital from 2007 until 2016 and is the past chairman of both the North and South Carolina Hospital Association boards.

“You’ve been an outstanding individual,” Mark Elam, DHEC board chair, told Toomey on Wednesday. “We’ve relied on your advice and your service and it’ll be a tough time to find someone capable of replacing you, but we’ve got to go forward.”

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