Washington healthcare workers push for legislative reforms

The coalition plans to urge legislators to pass new staffing standards. Several unions argue current workloads are unsafe for patient care.

SEATTLE — A coalition of state healthcare workers is again urging legislators to pass staffing standards that would set new limits on patient loads and increase enforcement of current laws. 

The “WA Safe + Healthy” coalition is also asking to move rule-making to the Department of Labor and Industries and calls for more enforcement of existing overtime, meal and rest break laws. 

“The state of healthcare staffing is worse today than it was a year ago,” Service Industries International Union (SEIU) Healthcare 1199NW President Jane Hopkins said in a news conference. “It is important for Washingtonians to understand that while many aspects of our lives have returned to normal, the lives and working conditions of healthcare workers have not.”

Nurse Dana Robison tells KING 5 she has worked in labor and delivery for 15 years and as a nurse for 17. She said staffing has always been a problem, but over the years has become a growing crisis.

“The reason even now that I keep coming back every day is pretty much only now for my patients,” Robison said. “I really just love being able to be with people through some of their hardest moments and also some of their biggest successes and their biggest moments of life, give them someone to lean on, make it less scary and make it something they can do successfully, and that’s the main reason I love my job- and keep coming back every day.”

She said she has watched as other nurses and healthcare workers have been pushed to their breaking points — and adds those still working in many cases are past that point — due to high workloads that she believes endanger staff and patient care. 

“This unsafe staffing crisis that we’re in is a direct result of years upon years of inaction on a problem that we’ve known exists and has led to unmanageable, untenable working conditions,” Robison said.

While she and many other supporters of the WA Safe + Healthy campaign support workforce development measures, Robison said she believes educating more nurses is not enough, noting nurses who are still licensed but are not currently employed in healthcare roles.

“The worse your staffing is, the more people will reach their breaking point and leave,” Robison said. 

Meanwhile, the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) released its own priorities for legislation this session, including “establishing a statewide staffing innovation collaborative, strengthening Washington’s model nurse staffing committee law, creating a hospital-based nurse student loan repayment assistance program, joining the nurse licensure compact, increasing traveler agency transparency and increasing in workforce development.”

WA Safe + Healthy expects safe staffing legislation to be filed Monday. 


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