Dr. Rice Leach, a state and national leader in public health for decades, was honored March 14 with the Public Health Hero Award from the Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health, for which he is commissioner — but is unable to work because he is battling cancer at home.
“When your peers recognize you, there’s nothing like it,” Leach told a crowd at the health department via Skype. “And when your peers you love recognize you, it’s got
to be the best.” The board plans to rename the award for Leach, whose outspoken nature has endeared him to public-health officials not as disposed to strong public statements.
The award is usually given in April, during part of
National Public Health Awareness Week. “It was presented Monday
because of Leach’s medical condition,” Karla Ward reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Leach, 75, sent an email to
the health department’s staff two weeks ago, updating them about his
lymphoma and telling them he would not be back to work. He said palliative care and hospice would be ‘not too far in the future’.”
Ward writes, “Leach’s five-year tenure as Lexington’s health commissioner was
preceded by decades of work in the public health field that included a
stint as chief of staff to the U.S. surgeon general, and international
work in Guatemala, Bolivia and Panama. He was Kentucky
commissioner of public health from 1992 to 2004; from 2004 to 2010 he
was medical director and executive director of the health department’s
primary care center.”