Piedmont Health Service employees, board members, supporters and friends gathered April 20 at the Carrboro Community Health Center for a dual-purpose event: to thank Dr. Carol Klein for her 35 years of service and to show off the newly renovated health center.

Dr. Klein’s retirement was the main event and included laudatory speeches, a tribute to Dr. Klein in song, an emotional video, gifts, tears, hugs and laughter.

“She says she’s going to retire. …I’ll give her six months and she’ll be back,” said Lydia Mason, Piedmont Health Services’ Chief Financial Officer, setting one of the themes for the send-off: that it was hard to believe – and harder to accept – that Dr. Klein was leaving Piedmont Health, where she has worked since 1982.

Dr. Abigail DeVries, Piedmont’s Medical Director, said Dr. Klein has been a constant as the organization has grown and changed.

“If you just think about how many patients she has treated…I wouldn’t venture to guess how many people that have been but it has to be in the thousands if not tens of thousands,” Dr. DeVries said.

She then introduced a video in which patients and coworkers of Dr. Klein told anecdotes about her dedication and service and described what she has meant to them. The video also included photos of Dr. Klein and her family – many of whom were in attendance – as well as video and photos throughout the years of Dr. Klein’s time at Piedmont.

Piedmont Chief Operating Officer Misty Drake recalled how she had a hard time preparing for Dr. Klein’s send-off because her office phone rang three times while she was trying to prepare her remarks. “All three times it was patients of Dr. Klein’s trying to get in that last appointment, that last interaction.”

After Ken Reeb, Piedmont’s Community Board Chair gave Dr. Klein a gift bag and a trophy thanking her and honoring her for years of service, a group of Dr. Klein’s fellow employees serenaded her. To the tune of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” the group bopped and swayed as they sang the song, which had the chorus:

Sweet Caroline, thanks for all your love and tears
Sweet Caroline, your light will shine in this place for many years

When it was finally Dr. Klein’s time to speak, she thanked a wide variety of people in several languages. Noting that Willard Cotton, Piedmont’s Seniors Ambassador, who has been at Piedmont since 1972, has been there longer than she has, Dr. Klein joked: “I have always hope to catch up with Willard. Today I admit defeat.”

The doctor noted all the changes she has seen while at Piedmont and how she has had to adapt, including learning new languages and learning to use electronic medical records.

“Has it been easy? No,” Dr. Klein said. “…I’ve done my share of complaining and thought about leaving more than once, but something always pulled me back, and that was my remarkable coworkers and practitioners. I want to name them all but there are too many…Words fail me expressing how much I learned from them and how much they meant to me….It has been wonderful.”

The event was also an Open House for the newly renovated Carrboro Community Health Center, and it included remarks from several prominent officials.

Rep. David Price, whose 4thDistrict includes Chapel Hill and Carrboro, pointed out that he visits Piedmont facilities often and is a “proud supporter” of community health centers, which he called “an extremely important piece of the health-care system.” Price acknowledged that getting funding for the centers was tough the last time around, but he said he is ready to keep fighting.

“That makes me determined that the federal government will be present and accounted for” in its support for community health centers, Price said.

Representatives of North Carolina senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr also attended the event.

Aaron Nelson, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, tied the two purposes of the event together, noting that he was a patient of Dr. Klein’s and lauding the role Piedmont Health plays in the local economy. “I want to say to Piedmont Health, you are the safety net but you are also the clinic of first choice and I’m grateful for you,” Nelson said.

The event ended with a tour of the facility and lunch. The renovation of the Carrboro Community Health Center was completed late last year. The project doubled the size of the health center, increasing the number of exam rooms from 15 to 18, increasing the number of dental chairs from three to six and greatly expanding the pharmacy.

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