KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Words like guidelines, mandates, and orders have been commonplace in the last 365 days. State lawmakers are now considering who should set them during a state of emergency.
The Tennessee House of Representatives recently passed legislation to limit the power of health boards in large counties, including Knox, and advise the county mayor, rather than set policy. The measure now moves to the state Senate for consideration.
Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said Wednesday, “if the Board of Health and the positions that I hold were advisory to the county mayor, it would have looked different, I believe. You’d have to ask Mayor Jacobs for more specifics about that. He would have maybe had made different decisions than I made.”
The debate surrounds whether an appointed board made up of health professionals and stakeholders should be given the authority to implement policy.
“I will still stand by the board of health. They’re a body of health professionals who care deeply about our community. That’s why they serve. That’s why they continue to serve. They would continue to support the evidence and the science. We will continue to make those recommendations that are based on evidence and science, tempered with what’s a reasonable recommendation…That won’t change,” she said.
When asked if the attacks are every difficult to hear, Buchanan said “of course,” but added, “that’s going to happen when you set yourself up in a position of leadership and you make decisions that aren’t easy decisions, not everybody is going to agree with you. That’s okay.”
When she thinks back to her toughest days, contentious county commission meeting actually did not come up. March 27, 2020 did. That’s the day Dr. Buchanan reported nine suicides in 48 hours. That was 10% of the total suicides from the year before.
“Stating the facts and providing our community with information with which to make informed decisions and making evidence-based recommendations is what we do day in and day out, but that doesn’t lessen the impact on us as people, when something so tragic happens in our community,” she added.
KCHD staff will meet, once the pandemic subsides, to discuss what worked and what did not.
Buchanan pointed to a couple things she already knows worked well: local partnerships. She cited an example of local hospital systems, who worked and still work together to ensure capacity and supplies never ran out, and ultimately ensured services remained available to the public.
While she’s optimistic about the number of people getting vaccinated daily, it’s certainly been a year to remember for the county’s top doctor. She credited her supportive family and friends, her team at KCHD, and her faith with getting her through.
The last year could be described as scary, frustrating, and painful, Buchanan will remember it differently.
“Even in the midst of unbelievable case counts and having to talk about how many people have died, there are still things to be grateful for. I think if we all as a community, and we as a human species, can take time to notice those things, we’ll just be nicer to each other.”
Friday marks one year since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Knox County.