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In response to the need for primary care services in rural North Carolina, the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing has partnered with others to open a school-based and nurse-managed health center at an Alamance County elementary school to serve the school and surrounding area.

The Sylvan Community Health Center, which opened June 6, is based at Sylvan Elementary School in Snow Camp. It is the result of a four-year collaborative effort by the UNC School of Nursing, the Alamance-Burlington School System and Piedmont Health, a nonprofit federally qualified health center.

Snow Camp residents have few local options for health care. More than half of the residents commute long distances to work, making it difficult for them to fit in health appointments for themselves or their children, says Leslie Sharpe, the UNC clinical instructor and family nurse practitioner who is the center’s lead provider. The school-based health center will make it easier for community members to get the medical care they need. The health center will provide affordable care, offering a sliding-fee scale for those with limited income

“I’m a big believer in increasing access to care for everybody,” Sharpe says. “We’re working to determine ways health centers located in schools, which are typically centers of their communities, will be sustainable models for providing primary care to small, rural communities.”

Staff at Sylvan Elementary determined the health care needs of their students and community members and worked with the school system to obtain federal funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration to create the health center space. 

At the recommendation of the Alamance Regional Medical Center, the school system asked Piedmont Health to operate the health center. Piedmont Health received financial support from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and the N.C. Office of Rural Health and Community Care to develop the program and hire staff. The UNC School of Nursing then offered a clinical faculty member to provide leadership for the center.

“The strategic alliance of three organizations in implementing this center is important,” says Brian Toomey, chief executive officer of Piedmont Health. “I believe strongly that such partnerships are key to designing successful, sustainable models of rural health care delivery in North Carolina.” 

“We are grateful and proud to have the UNC School of Nursing invited into this community-based health center,” says Kristen M. Swanson, the dean of the School of Nursing and alumni distinguished professor. “I am certain that this creative alliance will become a model program for delivering health care that is truly community-focused, evidence-based and service-oriented.”

Published June 7, 2013.