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Staff file photo / Becky Barnes, administrator of health services for the Hamilton County Health Department, speaks during a news conference before a tour of the Alstom COVID-19 testing site on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Becky Barnes, Hamilton County's top health official with more than four decades of public health experience, will retire from her role as health department administrator in September.

Barnes' retirement was confirmed in a statement from the Hamilton County Health Department issued Wednesday. Her retirement date is set for Sept. 10.

"Becky is somebody that I really enjoyed working with. She certainly exemplifies what a public health official should be like — someone with strong ethics and integrity," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said. "Her work ethic is something that not only I admire but you rarely see in individuals."

Barnes told Coppinger of her retirement plans in June — before the delta variant began driving the latest coronavirus case surge.

"At that time things were going really well in terms of COVID, and she told me at that particular time and submitted a letter that she'd be leaving. I said to her back then and kept my word, 'Do it on your own terms — tell your staff and people,'" he said. "Becky's got a true love for public health and that health department and the employees who are there."

Coppinger said that he's had several "positive" discussions with Barnes about candidates to fill the position. She has worked at the health department for 41 years and held the role as administrator for around two decades, according to Coppinger.

"That's not something you can easily replace," he said. "When she walks out the door, she's taking a lot of institutional knowledge with her."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 615-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.

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