KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Health Department has a new leader. Last week, Kevin Parton was named Senior Director of the health department. The move came after the retirement of his longtime predecessor, Dr. Martha Buchanan.

Buchanan took on two roles within the department: Senior Director and Health Officer. Since her retirement, those have split, with Parton taking on the more administrative role of the two.

“It’s a big step but one I’m excited about,” Parton said.

Parton served in the interim after Buchanan retired, and before that worked as the finance director. We asked him about concern expressed due to a lack of public health background.

He responded, “I’m here to support the professionals of the public health department, whether it be through the finance section, or the human resources section, or whatever it is that they need. I don’t pretend to be the master of public health domain, but I work for those that do.”

Parton also outlined his priorities in his new role.

“We were the first health department in the state of Tennessee to become accredited by the public health accreditation board and now at this point we have to go back through the re-accreditation process. So that is at the top of our list,” he said. “We also have our community health assessment that we’re working on completing. We’ll also have back-to-school coming up very soon so we will be very busy with vaccinations of little kids. And then also we’re taking over the state of mental health report.”

Over the course of the pandemic, the health department has received extra attention and even scrutiny from some community members.

When asked if he is prepared for that, Parton said, “For many years we flew under the radar, nobody really noticed us, and as we became wanting to get more engaged with the community, to push health farther, with that comes a certain level of spotlight. And now that we have that, what good can we do with our work now.”

Parton has been on the job in its official capacity for 10 days now; he took over last Monday.

The search for a public health officer is still going on – that is the leadership role that handles the medical tasks and issues. Dr. Warren Sayre is working in the interim.