by Bob Keith

In the last Mountain Breeze, I characterized the introduction of our new medical facility in the Gorge as “Only the ‘sign’ has changed”. After two public forums with Blue Ridge Health senior management and other background discussions and research into BRH, I would like to expand on my initial impressions. What follows is a better depiction of how we got to where we are, BRH’s broader and extensive capabilities and the future potential of medical services in the Gorge. The article below was provided by Lee Homan, a resident of Lake Lure and Director of Marketing and Communications with BRH.

Healthy Roots in the Gorge

Anyone willing to dig through the archives can draw a nearly uninterrupted line between Hickory Nut Gorge’s first resident medical doctor, George Bond Sr. over 70 years ago, to today – where Blue Ridge Health (BRH) has returned to the Gorge to build on a long-standing legacy of affordable, accessible care for all. 

George Bond Sr. first fell in love with the Gorge in 1928 at the age of 12, when he began annual summer visits with his family. Local lore at the time contended that his witnessing of unnecessary deaths due to lack of timely medical care during those warm, formative summers in the Gorge is what motivated his promise to community members that he would pursue medical training and return to help. 

It was 1946 when he rolled back into Bat Cave in an Army Surplus Jeep, medical degree in hand, aimed at rallying community support for what was still a largely untrusted field – preventive medicine. In 1948, through much persuasion and determination on the part of Dr. Bond, The Valley Clinic & Hospital was paid for and constructed out of an existing schoolhouse that had fallen into deep disrepair. The project was completed though strong community support from all around the Gorge. From that point forward, the effort held together because of providers and community members with an interest in preserving healthcare as a right, with preventive care available at a reasonable distance and a price they could afford. 

The Valley Clinic & Hospital operated in the Gorge from 1948 to 1988 when, due to technological advancements that made quality improvement cost-prohibitive, the Board of Directors decided it was best to turn over the remaining operation to what was then called Blue Ridge Community Health Services, Inc. – present day BRH. Under the management of BRH, with support from the communities around the Gorge, the George Bond Memorial Health Center was built and opened with Dr. Kate Sloss and others providing accessible, affordable care to Gorge residents. 

While that Health Center was operated privately in the early 2000s and eventually closed, Dr. Sloss continued practicing in the Gorge while BRH continued to grow and advance in the surrounding area.  Blue Ridge Health has now returned, rejoining Dr. Sloss in the Gorge, poised to continue the proactive pursuit of Dr. Bond’s vision.

Over the decades, the compassionate legacy of Dr. Bond has survived in the Gorge but, like most of Western North Carolina, health outcomes have lagged behind. In Lake Lure, Chimney Rock and Gerton, 25% of folks don’t have a usual source of care, 46% have not had a dental visit in the past year, and 24% have delayed care due to cost.  With 25% of the total population considered low-income, it will require consistency, community support and dedication to improve the health of the area. 

As your community health center, BRH – Lake Lure can help. All over Western North Carolina, BRH has developed a reputation for improving lives. For those unfamiliar with community health centers and the great, versatile work they do, here are some characteristics that define them:

  • Comprehensive: BRH provides family medicine, pediatrics, prenatal care, counseling, psychiatry, pharmacy, nutrition, dental, lab, radiology.  BRH is now offering most of those services directly at their practice located at 146 Nesbitt Ridge in Lake Lure. The remaining services that are not yet provided on site are available at practices in nearby Hendersonville, Columbus, and Spindale.
  • Quality: BRH offers high quality care. As an organization, they are recognized by the National Committee on Quality Assurance as a Level 3 Patient Centered Medical Home – the highest level of recognition a primary care practice can receive. They are also accredited by the Joint Commission as a Patient Centered Medical Home and recognized for Patient Safety & Quality.
  • Affordability:  No one is turned away for an inability to pay. Services are provided on a sliding scale based on income and household size. All private insurances, and Medicaid and Medicare, are accepted.
  • Accessibility: At BRH, everyone can access care they need no matter their age, income, insurance status, religion, language, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or otherwise.  Appointments are encouraged, but walk-ins are available for acute needs. Language support services, including Spanish and American Sign Language, are also available.
  • Charitable: In 2018, Blue Ridge Health provided close to $25 million in charity care across Western North Carolina. While the federal grant defining the organization as a community health center covers about 20% of the budget, the remaining revenue must be made up through private grants, patient revenue and – most importantly – charitable contributions. BRH is your community’s health center and the sky is the limit in terms of the potential impact the center can have on your community with your support.

If you know anyone in need of care, a compassionate ear, or affordable medication, BRH is here to help. To schedule an appointment or learn more about how BRH – Lake Lure can help you or your loved ones, call 828.625.4400 and a representative will be glad to help.

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For those of you who have been around these parts for a while, you’ll enjoy looking over a copy of a 1993 newspaper that features a reprint of a 1952 Reader’s Digest article of the medical revolution in the Gorge led by Dr. George Bond. This paper is on display in the Chamber Office next to Carolina Trust Bank. And while you are there, introduce yourself to the Chamber’s new Executive Director, Laura Doster.