Dr. Rice Leach, outspoken leader in public health for Kentucky and the nation, is retiring, but will still keep offering advice

Rice Leach, M.D. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo)

Dr. Rice Leach has announced that he will retire as Fayette County health commissioner, ending a remarkable public-health career that has included stints as state health commissioner and chief of staff to the surgeon general of the United States.

“I’m 75; I’ve been in this since 1964,” Rice told Bill Bryant on Sunday’s edition of “Newsmakers” on Lexington’s WKYT-TV. He said he has been through a third round of chemotherapy for lymphoma, which is “not responding as nicely as I would like it to,” so he will leave as soon as his successor is hired or he can’t continue to work at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
“Lymphoma is a concern, but hanging it up after 52 or 53 years, that’s going to be an adjustment for this guy,” he said. “The best job I ever had is the one I have now,” because the work involves providing prevention and other health care directly to people.
Leach was state health commissioner from 1992 to 2004, after more than 26 years with the U.S. Public Health Service, mostly with the Indian Health Service. In his current job, he has been an outspoken advocate of voluntary needle-exchange programs authorized by the legislature this year to thwart the spread of disease by heroin addicts.
Leach said he expects to remain active in public health, perhaps through newspaper columns that are likely to reflect his outspoken nature. “It’s a congenital asset, sometimes defect,” he said with his typical chuckle.
Leach illustrated that in saying that the public-health system could use more money, but health care in general could be more efficient. “There’s some slack in that system, if they can get relief from rules” that could reduce clerical work, he said.
And as usual, Leach had some advice for the public: “It’s absolutely imperative that people get their flu shots” because so many people in the population are taking chemotherapy or other drugs that lower their resistance to infection.
His most general advice: “Exercise, do things in moderation, and protect yourself from infections. . . . The best thing you can do, if you’re over 50, is make sure your cholesterol is under control, make sure your blood pressure is under control, and protect yourself from infection . . . . Wash your hands, for crying out loud!”
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