When reflecting on his 30-year career serving the health care needs of residents of Elkins and the surrounding area, nurse practitioner Frank Cuda said he feels fulfilled by the connections he was able to create within the community.
Beginning in 1981, Cuda provided primary health care under Dr. Stephen High's private practice located on Gorman Avenue in Elkins to multiple generations of community members. On Dec. 19, Cuda celebrated his retirement, much to the chagrin of patients and coworkers in attendance.
To honor Cuda's career, Lynn Phillips, regional representative for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, presented Cuda with a certificate of appreciation from the governor during his retirement party.
Speaking on behalf of Gov. Tomblin, Phillips said, "The governor would certainly like to thank you for all you have contributed to the health care facility and to the health and well-being of Randolph and surrounding counties.
"Your experience, wisdom and friendliness have made you an exceptional employee and a valuable asset to the Doctor C. Stephen High and the Elkins Allergy Center," Phillips read.
High agreed with Tomblin that Cuda has been an extremely valuable asset.
He said, "Frank is always the sort of person who would go out and do 200 percent for every patient. He was very compassionate."
High explained to the retirement party crowd that shortly after he opened his own practice in Elkins he sought out a physician extender to complete day-to-day medical practice within his office, a structure of care that had not been attempted in Elkins before. After discussing the matter with Cuda and knowing that he was "certainly quite capable of providing day-to-day medical care for patients in Elkins" the two decided to give it a try.
"I'd say it worked out pretty well," High said.
Cuda added, "I joined with Steve because I wanted to do more of primary care practice, so I developed my own practice. We have an overlapping practice, but mostly my patients only see me."
Following the model that High and Cuda created, other medical offices around the area have followed the same structure using a nurse practitioner, High said.
"I'm happy to say that Frank and I were the ones that got that going," he said.
Mark Doak, the chief executive officer of Davis Health Services, said he is certainly sad to see Cuda go, but happy for the opportunities his retirement will bring.
"From the health care side, honestly, Frank will be missed and we really hate to see him go," Doak said.
"He's given healthcare in this community for so many years and taken care of so many people the other part of this, though, is the personal side. And the personal side is the opportunity to have more free time," Doak said. "We wish him well and we thank him very much for what he has accomplished."
Ardella Evans, a longtime patient of Cuda's, said, "I hate to see him go. He was so good he always put his patients first."
As Cuda steps back from his day-to-day role at High's office -for the time being he will still be working one day a week - he said he feels he's accomplished what he originally set out to do.
With a master's degree in theology, Cuda and his wife Josie were working as missionaries performing community development in Bolivia when he was inspired to become a nurse practitioner.
While in Bolivia, Cuda met a nurse practitioner working as a missionary and from "watching what he did I had wanted to make that type of commitment to a community. (I wanted) to be part of a healing source. (I wanted) to work with a community in terms of healthcare, but (also) in terms of well being of the community, the spiritual as well as the physical.
"I decided that my true ministry was in healing."
After working in Elkins with Dr. Sam Roberts to complete his internship for his master's degree in nursing, Cuda met High and the rest is history.
"Healthcare to me isn't an end to itself, it's just a way of serving the community. That's what attracted me to it," Cuda said.
Cuda's wife Josie has observed the connections her husband has made with patients on a daily basis. Chuckling, she said Cuda knows so many community members that when she wants to make a quick trip to Walmart she doesn't bring him along.
"He really does have a great relationship (with his patients), which is healing in itself," Josie Cuda said.
Cuda agreed that the connections he created with community members are one of his greatest accomplishments.
"More than the healthcare that I provided it's been the sense of family, the sense of a better place to live," he said.
"It's just the sense of wholeness. It's not any individual person. The community is better off and I'm better off for the interaction we had."
During his retirement party Cuda spoke directly to the many patients in attendance.
"Steve, myself, the healthcare profession have contributed to the well-being of the community in more ways than just giving out pills, because we care," Cuda said. "You are our family. You will always be our family.
"We don't retire from this. So even though I won't be here every day my spirit, my soul, my whole heart will be here every day. I, Dr. High, our staff will continue to be at your service and in the future."
Mary K. Murphy has been hired to replace Cuda as a nurse practitioner in High's office. At the first of the year Murphy will be working full-time and Cuda will work one day a week to administer allergy shots. High's office is located at 909 Gorman Ave. and can be contacted at 304-636-9242.