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“I was very surprised” | Knox Co mayor reveals plans to replace top doctor

Officials with Knox County confirmed a firm will be used to find Dr. Buchanan’s replacements.
Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 5:33 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 6, 2021 at 6:54 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Knox County Glenn Jacobs told WVLT News Friday that the county will conduct a national search to fill Knox County Health Director Dr. Martha Buchanan’s positions with two separate people, rather than one. This is the model the department followed prior to Dr. Buchanan picking up her second title, officials said.

On Thursday, Jacobs’ office confirmed the doctor is resigning from both positions by the end of the year. The news came following a meeting between Buchanan and Jacobs Thursday morning.

“I was very surprise, because we had a great meeting that morning. I certainly understand. I’d like to thank Dr. Buchanan for all of the work that she’s done. She’s been under pressure the last 16 months and she’s done an admirable job,” Jacobs said.

Buchanan currently holds positions as Knox County’s senior director of health and health officer. Dr. Buchanan has worked for the Knox County Health Department since 2004 as the assistant public health officer. She took on the role of director in 2010.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said he will fill Dr. Buchanan’s positions internally until an official search is complete so that there are no vacancies.

“Dr. Buchanan was the senior director as well as the public health official-- that’s a lot of work for one person. So, we’re going to split those up and have a senior director in charge of administration and management ( the day to day operations) as well as another position that is the public health official,” Jacobs said.

The state does not have any involvement in the search but the Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the state was “happy to help,” in the search.

Buchanan was having a regularly scheduled meeting with the mayor on Thursday, when she told him she was resigning, according to the Knox County Communications Director, Mike Donila.

In an email she sent, she said that the decision wasn’t easy.

Buchanan will leave her post as senior director of health on October 1 and as county health officer on December 31. She delivered her letter of resignation Thursday afternoon, according to officials.

“It has been my honor to serve with the Health Department team in service of the Knox County community these past 17 years,” said Buchanan. “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.”

Dr. Buchanan resigns
Dr. Buchanan resigns(WVLT)

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs acknowledged Dr. Buchanan has been under a lot of “pressure” in the last 16 months.

According to WVLT News’ media partners, CompassKnox.com, that pressure was politics.

“Many people have wondered why she hasn’t resigned earlier,” said Scott Barker with CompassKnox. “She’s received threats, some board of health members received threats. Her staff -- sometimes would call people and they would get yelled at-- abusive language, just a difficult time. She’s very committed to her staff.”

Knox County Commissioner Chairmen, Larsen Jay, also spoke on the resignation.

“I am saddened to hear of Dr. Buchanan’s resignation,” said Jay. “Throughout the toughest period of time in recent history she always put the public welfare ahead of politics. Knox County definitely is losing an important public asset at a time we need serious medical professionals to lead the way.”

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon released a statement on social media about Dr. Buchanan’s parting from the county health department.

“She’s been a strong leader, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kincannon. “The people of Knoxville have benefited greatly from her knowledge and courage. She has earned our gratitude and respect.”

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