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Ashland hospital foundation awards record amount in scholarships

FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2021, file photo, a nurse puts on protective gear in a COVID-19 unit in California. The nation’s biggest immunization rollout in history is facing pushback from an unlikely source: health care workers who witnessed COVID-19?s devastation firsthand but are refusing shots in surprising numbers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Ashland Community Hospital Foundation announced almost $170,000 in scholarships for nursing students who promise to stay and work at Rogue Valley hospitals after they graduate.

Sixteen candidates studying at Oregon Health and Science University or Rogue Community College were recipients of The William G. and Ruth T. Evans Endowed Nursing Scholarship. An additional $9,683 is scheduled to be awarded to the 23 students in the graduating class of the community college’s licensed practical nursing program in September.

The total amount of money the foundation awarded this year was $169,683, a record since the scholarship program began in 2002.

“We feel very excited. We know that there is an incredible need for nurses in our community,” said Janet Troy, executive director of the Ashland Community Hospital Foundation. “I think COVID-19 has made that more apparent to everyone.”

Gabriela Bustos Ramos, a first-generation college student in her family, is attending OHSU. Before the scholarship, she was working a full-time job and doing some part-time work to pay for the cost of her schooling; now, she doesn’t have to.

“Hearing about it literally, while I was working, it was so big, it brought me to tears,” Bustos Ramos said. “I’ve been stressing so much about it and working all summer to just try to make this last year happen.”

Anne Hansen, director of Asante nursing professional development, applauded the scholarship program, calling it “an exceptional resource.”

“In health care, we’re always looking for people who are excited to be a part in delivering really high quality care,” she said. “To be able to have this opportunity for local community members to stay here in the valley ... and find a job at one of our organizations is just an exceptional opportunity.”

Asante has almost 1,500 nurses, which Hansen helps recruit and train. The scholarships will be critical to get new nurses working in the hospital as it battles the pandemic and makes way for a “patient pavilion.”

“This is a really critical time for us to be able to continue to staff,” Hansen said.

Over the years of the scholarship program’s existence, it became apparent to the hospital foundation that it needed to help pay incoming nurses for their licensing exams in addition to school, according to Troy.

“When the students finished the coursework, they sometimes didn’t have the money to pay for the license and exam fees, and that delayed them getting in the workforce,” she said. “By taking that barrier away from them, they are able to start practicing their licensed practical nursing skills as soon as possible after graduation.”

Troy noted that since scholarship priority is given to nurses who choose to work locally, the program indirectly benefits all of the valley’s hospitals.

When local graduates stay in the area, they reduce the need for “traveling nurses,” which Troy said are being used at hospitals where the demand for them is the greatest.

“The local hospitals can fill up with local nurses as opposed to having to hire traveling nurses, which tends to be more expensive and they’re only here temporarily,” Troy said. “It’s much better to have a permanent nurse in your hospital.”

Bustos Ramos is from the Portland area, but said Southern Oregon “has really grown on me,” because working with the nursing faculty here is rewarding.

“Learning that there’s a lot of nursing that we could do to help the community and really impact others in high need has been the reason I think I want to stay in this area,” she said.

Bustos Ramos has not had exposure to the COVID-19 hospital wards as a nursing student, but she’s looked for other ways to be involved for now, including participating in vaccine clinics.

But Bustos Ramos knows what is ahead.

“We’ve seen this third wave of cases. It’s bound to be an issue we deal with as new nurses,” she said, referring to the pandemic. “The precautions we’ve learned in school and how we’ve learned to take care of ourselves in the last year will definitely serve to prepare for that.”

The idea of so many hospital admissions from people who choose not to get vaccinated makes Bustos Ramos “weary.”

However, “we’re fortunate we have time to contemplate it and build a skill set to draw from,” she noted.

Troy met the nurses Friday and thanked them for their willingness to serve.

“It’s a very honorable profession,” she said. “We need excellent nurses in our community. … We’re so glad we were able to support you in your journey to become a nurse.”