BURGAW, N.C. -- This week, the Pender Alliance for Teen Health (PATH) officially opened the first school-based health center in the county.
On Wednesday, parent Nakebia Fennell got to see the what the new center at West Pender Middle School offers her two boys. She said having this facility nearby will make a big difference.
"Their pediatrician is in Wilmington, and that's about 25 minutes away from here, so we do a lot of traveling when we have to go there," said Fennell.
And she's not alone.
Pender County Schools said half of the families in the district drive more than 35 miles to see a doctor.
On top of that, a survey shows 50 percent of students in the area use the ER, school nurse or an urgent care center as a primary care provider.
But now the students have an actual doctor's office staffed with a full-time nurse and case manager and a part-time nurse practitioner and therapist right at school.
"Many times a school nurse may really suspect the child has strep throat, for instance, the school nurse cannot diagnose," said Kim Collins, the lead school nurse for Pender County Schools. "If the school nurse suspects that and the child is enrolled in school-based health center, she can send them here."
While a trip to the office means time away from class, officials said the other alternatives are far more detrimental.
"If you got to travel that far, it's very difficult, gas and time off of work, it's just very hard, and so they let things go too long and then they end up in the emergency room with a real crisis," said Collins.
Fennell said this center is the perfect cure for children in a rural county needing TLC.
"Your child is going to go to school so they have that access already here," said Fennell.
PATH said federal, state and local funding along with their partnership with the school system and health department made the center a reality.
They said they hope to open up the facility to families in a year or so.