$500,000 gift expands Atrium Health’s school-based virtual care program to Rutherford Co.
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Feb. 5, 2024 — Students in rural Rutherford County now have greater access to comprehensive primary care through Atrium Health’s School-Based Virtual Care program. Atrium Health announced today a $500,000 commitment from LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda and his family to create the Lebda Family Rural Healthcare Program, which will support the expansion of school-based virtual care beginning this semester. The gift, which was announced at Forest City-Dunbar Elementary School in Forest City, will provide thousands of Rutherford County families a convenient and high-quality option for health care.
With over 7,000 students in 19 schools in Rutherford County, the expanded program has the potential to complete over 1,300 virtual visits each school year, helping students stay in school and achieve academic success.
Rutherford County is one of many rural communities in North Carolina where children lack access to comprehensive medical care. In some counties, there are more than 2,000 children per pediatrician.
To improve access to care, Atrium Health is embedding virtual clinics in local public schools to provide medical care to students onsite. With philanthropic support, its school-based virtual care program first launched in Cleveland County during the 2017-18 school year and has since grown to serve over 160 schools across eight counties in North Carolina.
“Our family is committed to philanthropic support for education and health care – two of the most important things in life,” said Lebda. “It’s our desire to encourage and inspire others to step up and help implement this program in all counties Atrium Health serves. When we learned of the need to expand this program, which has proven to be so successful in other counties, we knew we wanted to help make it happen.”
In 2023, the school-based virtual care program completed over 10,000 video visits and comprehensive medical exams for students, virtually. The program has been a boon to children, their parents, local health systems and the schools, leading to a 32% reduction in preventable emergency department visits; a 50% return-to-classroom rate; and an average, estimated financial benefit to parents of $352 per remote patient visit, due to avoiding lost wages, emergency room copayments, travel costs and other expenses.
“Doug Lebda and his family are true champions of access to care for our children and their families,” said Callie Dobbins, senior vice president of Atrium Health Levine Children’s. “This gift will have a profound impact on those who would otherwise go without health care or face significant challenges in receiving primary care. Thanks to the Lebdas’ vision and generosity, we are not only improving access and preventing avoidable visits to the emergency room, but we are also providing more class time for students and less missed work for parents.”
Rutherford County Schools is rolling out the virtual care program this month and has already treated 157 students. Leyton Hill, a second grader at Forest City-Dunbar Elementary School, was one of the initial patients. After reporting to the school nurse with an earache, he participated in a virtual visit, which his mom, Lauren Hill, was able to observe. The provider made the diagnosis, ordered the necessary prescriptions and Leyton was able to return to class.
“This experience was so incredible,” said Lauren Hill. “I got to see the infection in the ear myself, as well as talk to the doctor. Not having to take my child out of school and miss instruction is very important to me, as a parent.”
“This program will be a game-changer for Rutherford County and our school system,” said David Sutton, superintendent of Rutherford County Schools. “We are grateful for the partnership and the gift of health, so our young people can succeed in the classroom.”
About Atrium Health
Atrium Health is a nationally recognized leader in shaping health outcomes through innovative research, education and compassionate patient care. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Atrium Health is part of Advocate Health, the third-largest nonprofit health system in the United States, which was created from the combination with Advocate Aurora Health. A recognized leader in experiential medical education and groundbreaking research, Wake Forest University School of Medicine is its academic core. Atrium Health is renowned for its top-ranked pediatric, cancer and heart care, as well as organ transplants, burn treatments and specialized musculoskeletal programs. Atrium Health is also a leading-edge innovator in virtual care and mobile medicine, providing care close to home and in the home. Ranked nationally among U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals in eight pediatric specialties and for rehabilitation, Atrium Health has also received the American Hospital Association’s Quest for Quality Prize and its 2021 Carolyn Boone Lewis Equity of Care Award, as well as the 2020 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Health Equity Award for its efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in care. With a commitment to every community it serves, Atrium Health seeks to improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – for all, providing $2.8 billion last year in free and uncompensated care and other community benefits.
Rutherford County Schools (RCSNC) is the comprehensive public school system of Rutherford County, North Carolina. With eighteen schools and one prekindergarten center serving over 7,200 students, RCSNC is an innovative school district committed to preparing all students for college and career success. Through its Going GLOBAL initiative, RCSNC has embraced a one-to-one digital learning environment where all students from kindergarten through grade twelve have access to a personal technology device every day. Supported by a strong community with deep roots, RCSNC celebrates lasting partnerships with the Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation, the Rutherford County Schools Education Foundation, and multiple other agencies and organizations. Learn more at rcsnc.org.