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Outgoing Commissioner: Public Health Must "Step Up" To New Challenges


Fayette County’s top health chief is hanging up his hat. Dr. Rice Leach recently announced he’s stepping down as soon as officials locate a replacement.

From his lengthy resume, you’d think the one-time state health commissioner and chief of staff to the surgeon general of the United States had it all mapped out ahead of time. But the always candid Dr. Leach says he “fell into” the profession that’s kept him occupied for the last 50 years.

Known for his straight-shooting style, Leach has championed a number of causes over the years – including most recently the city’s needle exchange program – but he says Lexington has yet to truly treat suicide, alcohol abuse, bullying, and other problems as the public health crises they are.

"I sit here and wonder, where is Calipari going to recruit from down the pike? Where is Lexmark going to recruit from? Where is the radio station going to recruit from? We've got so many of them in jail, so many of them murdered, so may of them mentally messed up and no help. We've got to tackle that and public health has a role in it. It just has not stepped up," he says.

Still, Leach is proud of the progress made by the board of health and his staff, which he says have expanded the reach of the department while absorbing cuts which trimmed the employee rolls by about 50 people over the past few years.

Leach, who is dealing with another resurgence of lymphoma, says he has no specific plans for retirement but he hopes to stay involved in local healthcare.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.