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BOUNCING BACK: Nursing Douglas County’s Economy Back to Health

ROSEBURG, Ore. — This isn’t exactly a story of rising from the ashes; when it comes to Douglas County health care, it’s more like rising from the rubble. That’s all that’s left of what used to be Douglas Community Hospital.

“I worked there from 1975 until it closed in 2000,” said nurse Sandy Hendy. “It was unfortunate, but it was a sign of the times.”

Douglas Community closed down because the area couldn’t sustain two hospitals. Twelve years later, it’s the health care industry that’s playing a major role in revitalizing Douglas County’s economy.

Sixty-one registered nurses will graduate from Umpqua Community College this summer. They’re the lucky few who made it through what has become an incredibly competitive application process.

“Demand is at least double or triple,” said Hendy, who also teaches nursing at UCC. “That’s not unusual for colleges to get double or triple the number of applicants.”
They’re trying to get into an industry that weathered the Great Recession better than almost any other. When they’re done, many of them end up at Mercy Medical Center. It employs more than 1,000 people — from doctors and nurses to cleaning staff and groundskeepers.

Other new nurses apply across town to work in one of the picturesque red brick buildings on the campus of the Veterans Administration Medical Center.

On a given day, 70 to 75 people live there and they are a fraction of the 27,000 veterans served by the Roseburg VA.

“Roseburg also is a healthcare system,” said VA director Carol Bogedain. “So we provide services up in Eugene and we have extension clinics at the coast.”

That kind of demand requires a large staff — 815 in all.

“We have clinicians, administrative staff, professional staff …,” listed Bogedain.
The VA is likely going to need even more of them in the future.

“In addition to our own baby boomers in this community retiring, we’re also going to see — and have seen — people looking to relocate here,” said Debbie Fromdahl, the Roseburg Chamber of Commerce president.

“This is a community where the pace is a little bit slower,” Bogedain said, “but yet they want to have the services available to them.”

With more retirees moving here, demand for health care workers will continue to grow, completing the industry’s rise from the rubble that started more than a decade ago.

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