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Director of Knox Co. Health Department Dr. Martha Buchanan resigns

Dr. Martha Buchanan led the Knox County Health Department during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and served on the Board of Health.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dr. Martha Buchanan, who led the Knox County Health Department during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, handed in her resignation on Thursday.

She informed the office of Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs Thursday that she would step down. Officials said she would step down as the director of KCHD on Oct. 1 and would step down as the county's health officer on Dec. 31.

Spanish Version: Renuncia la Dra. Martha Buchanan, directora del Departamento de Salud del Condado de Knox

As county health officer, Buchanan would still have the authority to issue restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been my honor to serve with the Health Department team in service of the Knox County community these past 17 years," she said in a statement. "The excellence, expertise, and dedication they demonstrate every day is beyond comparison. I am incredibly proud of the work we have done together to improve health in Knox County. However, I believe it is time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.”

A successor has not been named. A national search is expected to be conducted.

Charity Menefee, who acted as another leader in KCHD during the height of the pandemic, left the position in July.

Credit: Submitted
Dr. Buchanan's note to staff about her planned departure.

Buchanan served on the Board of Health as they discussed how to approach the several health crises created by the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, she emphasized people wear masks and get vaccinated for COVID-19 to keep their communities healthy, even if masks were not mandated.

She also created a testing site at the KCHD when cases first started being reported in Knox County, helping collect information health leaders needed in order to respond to COVID-19.

After graduating from medical school at East Tennessee State University and completing a residency in North Dakota, Buchanan opened her first family medicine practice in Jellico, Tennessee. Eventually, she took a job with the health department, and the rest is history.

Before she walked up the podium for conferences and meetings, she said she always thought of her father.

"I always credit my dad for my ability to speak in public because he made me pray at church and speak at church, so I learned early on how to speak in public," Buchanan said in May 2020.

On Wednesday, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in East Tennessee, she urged people to once again wear masks. She also recommended Knox County Schools leaders follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and require masks in schools.

Knox County mayor Glenn Jacobs released a statement about her resignation on Thursday. He said he was surprised to receive her resignation and that he respects the work she'd done before and during the pandemic. His statement can be read in full below:

“I understand Dr. Buchanan’s decision and wish her the best but was surprised to receive her resignation today. I respect the work she’s done in the name of public health—during the pandemic and well before it. She is highly regarded in the medical community, by health department staff, and by me. We are fortunate she has served Knox County for as long as she has. Her job is a high-pressure job that has become even more stressful due to COVID-19, and I admire what she’s done in such a difficult year. Dr. Buchanan will continue serving Knox County as the local public health officer until the end of December, and we look to forward to working with her until then.”

Knoxville mayor Indya Kincannon lamented the decision, calling Buchanan a "strong leader."

"I regret to hear that Dr. Martha Buchanan has decided to resign this fall from the position of Senior Director of the Knox County Health Department. She's been a strong leader, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The people of Knoxville have benefited greatly from her knowledge and courage. She has earned our gratitude and respect." 

She was expected to be at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Additional information about that conference was not immediately available.

Credit: Dr. Martha Buchanan