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Wyden visits Asante to highlight COVID-related challenges

Justin McCoy, an ICU nurse, speaks with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., after a press conference in which he told reporters, "Two years in, we are exhausted," about hospital working conditions under Covid-19, Saturday outside Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford. Photo by Denise Baratta

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden was in Southern Oregon on Saturday visiting Asante Medical facilities in Medford and Grants Pass.

The Oregon Democrat spoke to staff members at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center about how they have been affected by COVID-19 before speaking to the media about it.

Justin McCoy, an ICU nurse at Asante Rogue Regional, stood alongside the senator.

Both men talked about the importance of COVID vaccinations and boosters, specifically how they sharply reduce need in communities for hospital care among those who contract the virus.

Most of the patients requiring hospital care because of COVID-19 haven’t been vaccinated, resulting in frustration among health care professionals, McCoy explained.

“We’re beyond angry,” McCoy said.

Now “we’re just sad.”

Wyden stressed that everyone who can get vaccinated, should get vaccinated.

“It’s good for the community, it’s good for families, it’s good for practitioners,” he explained. “It’s my strongest hope.”

McCoy was able to talk from experience about the toll the pandemic has had on nurses.

He spoke about how co-workers have been sometimes so overcome with emotion and exhaustion that they simply “break down,” he said.

And the significant amount of care that COVID-19 patients require continues affecting all patients because focus has shifted toward the virus.

More people are in need of care because others are still suffering from other health problems, such as heart attacks, cancers and surgeries, along with COVID-19 patients.

“Our system is breaking from top to bottom,” McCoy said about the industry as a whole.

It was noted that Asante has adequate staffing.

Some medical professionals have retired or left medicine at a time when all hands are most needed.

Wyden said he is intent on finding a way to address the financial issue of increased nursing costs that has arisen during the pandemic.

He said the number of nurses working as travelers, who provide contract work to care facilities, has increased rapidly during the pandemic.

He also noted that health care facilities pay traveling nurses at least three times more than staff nurses.

The resulting and rapid increase in the number of traveling nurses is not only having an impact on the Medicare and Medicaid budgets. Asante alone is spending millions of dollars more for personnel, Wyden also said.

“Without travelers, people will die,” he also stressed.

However, he also explained that while a larger number of nurses are working as travelers so they can make much better pay, it’s a financial strain that requires remedying.

Because of pay disparity between staff and traveling nurses, the industry is in dire need of fairness and consistency, as well, Wyden said.

And the industry that handles traveling nurse contracting is in need of “transparency,” he added.