LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 4, 2022) — The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department’s Board of Health has selected University of Kentucky Professor Sharon Walsh, Ph.D., as a 2022 Dr. Rice C. Leach Public Health Hero. The award is given annually to individuals who have demonstrated their dedication to improving the health of Lexington residents. The winners are announced each April as part of National Public Health Week (April 4-10, 2022).
Walsh is a professor of behavioral science, psychiatry, pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences in UK's College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy and director of the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research. Walsh is the principal investigator on the landmark $87 million HEALing Communities Study, the largest grant ever received by UK, to reduce opioid overdose deaths.
Through her leadership of almost 100 HCS interdisciplinary team members (25 faculty, 70 staff), HCS has established partnerships with 27 behavioral/healthcare and eight criminal justice agencies in Fayette County over the past year to implement an integrated set of evidence-based practices to combat the opioid epidemic. Fourteen new staff have been embedded in Fayette County agencies to expand capacity for medication treatment for opioid use disorder (MOUD), link and retain clients on MOUD, and have provided overdose education and distributed more than 4,600 naloxone units.
“I’m honored to receive the award created in memory of Rice C. Leach, a true public health hero committed to improving the health and well-being of Lexingtonians and all Kentuckians,” Walsh said. “Kentucky was one of the first and is among the states hardest hit by the nation’s opioid crisis. Combating this epidemic must happen in the communities where affected people live. The HEALing Communities Study team, in partnership with many state and community partners, is implementing evidence-based practices and removing barriers to care and recovery to turn the tide on the impact of opioid use in the Commonwealth and become a national model for reducing opioid overdose deaths.”
Lexington Battalion Chief Marc Bramlage has also been recognized as a 2022 Dr. Rice C. Leach Public Health Hero. Both winners will be recognized at the April 11 Board of Health meeting held at 5:45 p.m. at 650 Newtown Pike. They will also be honored by Mayor Linda Gorton at the April 14 Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council meeting.
Previously known as the Public Health Hero Award, the Board of Health renamed the award in 2016 in memory of the late Dr. Rice C. Leach, Lexington’s former Commissioner of Health who spent more than 50 years as a public health physician. Leach died April 1, 2016.
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