Gift from LendingTree CEO and Family Paves Way for Healthy Futures for Students in Rural Counties

02.05.2024 Atrium Health News

$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 to 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.”