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Dr. Wade Kartchner, health director of the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District that includes Rappahannock County, outside his Warrenton office last fall.

Dr. Wade Kartchner, the steady leader of the local pandemic response, announced on Wednesday that he is retiring from his position as health director for the Warrenton-based Rappahannock Rapidan Health District. His last day will be “on or around March 8.”

The Rappahannock News could not immediately reach Dr. Kartchner for comment. 

“There are other opportunities in public health, particularly in Latin America that I want to pursue before I get too old,” he wrote in his email announcement. 

Kartchner, an Arizona native, was appointed RRHD’s health director in early 2016. For almost a decade  until arriving in Virginia to be closer to a son attending law school, the pediatrician was Public Health Director of Navajo County, Arizona — in that capacity overseeing, in part, portions of the Navajo Nation and surrounding Hopi and Fort Apache Indian Reservations.

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He has been a prominent voice in regional public health from the moment the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Rappahannock Rapidan district. As early as March, Dr. Kartchner wrote an open letter to Dr. Norm Oliver, state health commissioner, concerned about the “collateral damage” of the virus. Kartchner wrote: 

“With the institution of ever-increasingly drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus, I see perhaps an even greater danger in destroying the economy through such measures, with the resultant ramifications that brings to society and the long-term health of its citizens. We know from a population health perspective that one of the major determinants of health is the economic well-being of a person and society. I am concerned that a narrow focus on ‘flattening the curve’ in the short-term is taking precedence over the loss of life in the long term, as this entire cohort of people who are at significant risk of losing jobs, health insurance, homes, and savings suffers from suicide, abuse, increased morbidity and mortality from untreated or poorly treated conditions, mental health crises, divorce, and increased drug and alcohol abuse.”

In October, Kartchner explained to this newspaper that the reason he wrote the March letter was “that I really try to provide a balance, combined with what I think is important from my experience and from my time as a health director and my reading of the literature. So I've received feedback when I write those things that yes, that’s true, and no, that's wrong. So if I get both of those I figure I'm probably hitting it right in the middle.”

In his Wednesday retirement announcement, Kartchner wrote: 

“This has been a wild and wonderful ride with you all here in the district, particularly through this pandemic. Please know that your health department team is the finest group of public health professionals I have known; they are up to the task of tackling anything that might be thrown at them.”

A health director from a neighboring district will serve as the interim director at the RRHD until Kartchner’s replacement is identified by the Virginia Department of Health.

“My wife and I plan to remain in the area for the foreseeable future. … Grandchildren in the area will make sure of that,” Kartchner said.