As healthcare workers and their unions raise concerns about widespread burnout and overworked staff amid the pandemic, Washington lawmakers have introduced new bipartisan legislation aimed at creating new safe staffing standards for hospitals in Washington.
The legislation is intended to help protect healthcare workers and ensure patients get the care they deserve.
At the end of 2021, unions UFCW 21, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and the Washington State Nurses Association — which collectively represent more than 71,000 healthcare workers in the state of Washington — launched the “WA Safe + Healthy” campaign. The unions are calling on lawmakers in Olympia to pass legislation to deal with the unprecedented burnout and unsafe work conditions healthcare workers are facing.
In a December poll of about 1,200 Washington healthcare workers, 84 percent of healthcare workers said they’re burned out, and about half (49 percent) said they’re likely to quit healthcare in the next few years. Among those likely to quit, 71 percent said short-staffing was among their primary reasons.
“Now we are in a crisis with hospital staffing levels falling off a cliff as a record number of workers burnout. Hospital executives have spent millions of dollars in bonuses for themselves during the pandemic alone,” said Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), a co-sponsor of the new legislation. “Instead, we need our resources focused on having enough nurses and healthcare workers and for them to be well-trained, well-respected and well-compensated.”
In response to these grievances, legislators have introduced Senate Bill 5715, sponsored by Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett), and Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), as well as a companion bill in the House, HB 1868, sponsored by Riccelli, Rep. Mike Volz (R-Spokane), Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle), and Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham).
The legislation, as currently written, would establish staffing standards for hospitals that include specific patient to staff ratios. It would also implement a hospital staffing committee to maintain and enforce these standards. A spokesperson for the healthcare workers union also said the legislation would be aimed at closing loopholes and enforcing existing break and overtime laws to ensure hospitals are complying with already-passed legislation and to ensure healthcare workers get legally-required meal and rest break time, as well as ending the current “abuse” of mandatory overtime.
“Throughout the pandemic, healthcare workers have worked to the bone and put their own lives at risk, despite being understaffed, burned out, and at their breaking points,” said Sen. Robinson, sponsor of SB 5751. “We need to take care of them like they’ve taken care of us, by protecting them from the stress of unmanageable patient loads. The only way to address the staffing crisis — and ensure patients get timely, quality care – is to mitigate the burnout our healthcare workers are facing every day. Washington should be a place healthcare workers want to come and have long, successful careers.”