As the Foundation was considering candidates for the 2022 Community Impact Award (CIA), Dr. Rivers Woodward of Blue Ridge Health in Lake Lure reached out to recommend that we honor Dr. Kate Sloss and her dedicated nurse, Cindy Pilgrim, since they were retiring after over 30 years of medical service to the HNG community. The Foundation Board whole heartedly agreed that both Kate and Cindy have exemplified the CIA values over their years of work to improve health care in our community and the health of its citizens.
In Dr. Kate’s own words, “I arrived in Hickory Nut Gorge to practice primary care medicine in 1989. Blue Ridge Community Health Services (BRCHS) had recently acquired the little practice in the old Elementary School/Hospital from the NC Office of Rural Health.” She goes on, “I felt awed and inspired by the many physicians who had preceded me in that practice: Dr. George Bond Sr., Dr. Burch, Dr. Zulick, Dr. Hamilton, Dr. Wander, and Dr. Dedman, to name a few”.
As a young physician, Kate states, “that she was fortunate enough to have guidance and experience from Helen Early, RN, who had worked with many of the physicians before her. Helen had a wealth of knowledge about the folks and ways of Hickory Nut Gorge. She was forever calm, professional, and kind in her white nurse’s uniform and hat. She taught me more about caring for a community and individuals than medical school and residency combined”.
Around 1994, the George Bond Medical Center opened next to the Bat Cave Post Office. Cindy Pilgrim, one of its first employees, was assigned to be Dr. Kate’s “nurse” but quickly morphed into front desk handler/phlebotomist/clinic manager/dear friend and advisor …. duties and responsibilities she has continuously performed for over the last 30 years. What a magnificent team.
Dr. Kate goes on to say that they loved and cared for their patients. Extraordinary examples include giving baths to those without running water, calling folks just to say that we are thinking of them, visiting home-bound patients and handling all emergencies with calmness and competence. The pair stood together through many uncertain times maintaining a practice out of the Episcopal Church for a couple of years and receiving support from Pardee Hospital for several years after moving back into the George Bond Medical Center. They never gave up on the Gorge.
Around 2012, it became clear that a small solo practice would not be able to flourish and attract new providers unless there was a more visible, convenient facility location. At the same time, the Town of Lake Lure and other community organizations were seeking a strong, stable medical practice for the town. Through collaboration between Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) out of Asheville and the then Lake Lure Commissioner Mary Ann Silvey (who donated some of her land to this endeavor), a beautiful, modern medical facility near Ingles overlooking Lake Lure was built. After several years and a successful start under MAHEC, Blue Ridge acquired the practice to offer expanded support and services under the leadership of Dr. Kate Sloss and, of course, nurse Cindy Pilgrim.
As Dr. Kate concludes, “there were so many stories, surprises, sorrows, and great joys interwoven in this history. Cindy and I have received so many gifts from so many people. Time, gratitude, wisdom, laughter and lots of produce and bakery goods from people we have cared for”. She goes on, “My greatest joy is that the little medical practice that served so many people in the Gorge for so many years has grown to be a vibrant, sustainable practice that can serve our community well into the future”.
The HNG Foundation is pleased and proud to support the many needs of our area with financial grants and also recognize those individuals who make a significant contribution and impact to our community. May all have a happy and prosperous 2023 New Year!