Hospital staffing shortage forces Oregon family to travel

A family must travel 243 miles to Portland for their daughter’s leukemia treatment after the pandemic led to a staffing shortage at their local hospital in Medford.

PORTLAND, Oregon — A family from Grants Pass drove to Portland last week to get treatment for their 3-year-old daughter’s cancer, and they will do it again next week.

In April, the Burrell family discovered Avery had a form of leukemia. Since then, she’s had most of her follow-up treatments at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, about 30 miles from from their home. 

Her most recent treatments lasted five days, during which she had to wait in the hospital to make sure nothing went wrong. Now, a staffing shortage, brought on by the COVID pandemic means the family must travel 243 miles to Portland.

“It was very hard. It was very stressful,” said Avery’s mom, Melody Burrell. “I felt like my heart was in three different places with my husband being [in Grants Pass], my youngest being with grandma and then even Avery — just watching what she has to go through, it’s a lot.”

Melody loaded the car with her mom, her 15-month old and 3-year-old Avery for the long drive.

RELATED: 500+ health care personnel coming to Oregon to aid overwhelmed hospitals

Both Grants Pass and Medford have hospitals owned by Asante, but only the one in Medford has a cancer unit for children. 

Like many other hospitals around Oregon, Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center has lost workers during the pandemic. Some left the business while others transferred to clinics with more stable hours and less stress. A hospital spokeswoman said at times, the pediatric area was without enough staff. 

“That’s hard as a parent to hear. That we’re fighting day by day on whether the treatment works or not. If we’re too late because we couldn’t get in because of COVID, you know, it’s a lot. It’s hard. It’s a lot of emotions,” Melody Burrell said.

Avery’s dad, Ryan, had to stay back in Grants Pass to train for a new job. He is frustrated with health care leaders.

“It’s not a resentment thing toward the people that are actually sick themselves. Its more just resentment toward the organization inside the health care system to make this happen and or not,” he said.

Asante has hired six new nurses in the past couple months, is using traveling nurses and is still trying to hire more.

RELATED: ‘The pain is honestly worse than the hunger’: Oregon’s overwhelmed hospitals delaying surgeries for others

In the meantime, the Burrell family is mentally preparing for another trip to Portland.

“For us to be told that it’s just gonna get worse and we can’t go to the place that we’re supposed to go to get treatment, that’s just a little insane,” Melody said.

“They’re basically saying there’s no room for us because of what’s going on,” she added.

Have a comment or story idea for Pat Dooris? Email him at [email protected]

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