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Reducing suffering, in the hospital and beyond

OHSU’s Elona Dellabough-Gormley volunteers at needles exchanges
woman carrying armfuls of syringe safety boxes to load up on a bike trailer
Volunteers Leslie Corless (left) and Elona Dellabough-Gormley, R.N., load up bikes with supplies before their shift with the Portland People's Outreach Project in Portland. Dellabough-Gormley extends her commitment to lessen suffering, by volunteering twice a week at area needle exchange programs. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

One of the reasons Elona Dellabough-Gormley, R.N., became a nurse was to lessen suffering.

She has helped countless people manage and cope with their health challenges as an acute care nurse working on OHSU Hospital’s fifth floor, a temporary home to patients with health problems such as sepsis and organ failure.

“Elona is an extraordinarily selfless nurse who dedicates her life to improving the health of our vulnerable, underserved patients,” said her nursing supervisor, Brittney Caldera, R.N., M.S.N., M.B.A. “Her greatest strength is her focus on meeting patients where they are, and approaching them with open, empathetic arms.”

Dellabough-Gormley’s work to help others doesn’t end after each 12-hour shift. She also volunteers twice a week at local needle exchanges that support Portlanders who use drugs. Her volunteer work earned Dellabough-Gormley a community service award in honor of National Nurses Week.

Dellabough-Gormley offers supplies and information for safer drug use, as well as the drug that reverses opioid overdoses, nalaxone, through the nonprofits Outside In, which serves the homeless and other marginalized people, and the Portland People’s Outreach Project, a mobile program serving the drug-using community.

Sterile syringes prevent the spread of bacterial infections, Hepatitis C, HIV and other conditions she often sees in the patients she cares for at OHSU. Drug users continually inspire Dellabough-Gormley.

“I’m profoundly grateful for the people I interact with at needle exchanges,” she said. “I see a level of generosity and resilience that is unmatched in any community. People who have very little still find ways of showing up for each other.”

For example, a client was recently grieving the death of a friend when another client who was a perfect stranger noticed he was not doing well, sat down to chat with him, and offered what little food he had on hand.

Dellabough-Gormley practices a response called harm reduction, which aims to reduce the risks associated with using drugs. While people who use drugs often face overwhelming stigma and barriers to improving their health, the harm reduction approach seeks to affirm their dignity and promote access to tools that enable them to take care of themselves.

She also applies what she learns while volunteering back at OHSU. Dellabough-Gormley works with interdisciplinary teams that try to improve OHSU policies and procedures about caring for drug users. And she’s participating in OHSU ECHO in Addiction Medicine, a telemedicine network that virtually connects providers with OHSU specialists to help better address the needs of patients with substance use disorder.

The bottom line, for Dellabough-Gormley, is to support people in moving toward the lives they want to lead.

“Elona operates on the tenant that people deserve to have their needs met to reduce their suffering, while promoting justice and equality,” said Caldera, her supervisor.


About 2,700 nurses work in OHSU’s hospitals and clinics. Dellabough-Gormley is one of nine OHSU staff who were honored during Nurses Week for their exceptional service. Below is a list of OHSU staff who were recognized and the awards they received.

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
    • Valerie Sweitzer, N.P.-C.
  • Advancing and Leading the Profession
    • Cheri Warren, MSHI, R.N.-B.C.
  • Ancillary Staff Member
    • Jessica Croy, C.N.A.
  • Clinical Care
    • Cindy Sarfo-Kantanka, R.N., C.P.N.
  • Community Service
    • Elona Dellabough-Gormley, R.N.
  • Distinguished
    • Leo Eskola, R.N.
  • Management
    • Adrienne McDougal, M.N., R.N., C.C.R.N.-K.
  • Mentoring
    • Andrea Runde, R.N.
  • Nightingale
    • Caitlin Walters, R.N.
  • Teaching
    • Annemarie Hartman-Charness, R.N., O.C.N. 
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