No matter what else happens in life, there’s one universal truism that you can always count on: you never want your hospital nurse to be performing the “I need a bathroom break” dance in the middle of your IV insertion. That is just one reason why the Washington State Nurses Association’s “Rest Breaks Bill” (SHB 1155) encoding uninterrupted rest breaks as a right and requirement for health care workers, is so important.
It is irrefutable that when nurses do not get their breaks, patient care suffers. The literature reflects this ad nauseum. When nurses work longer without stopping, the risk of medication errors, employee accidents, “decision regret” and miscellaneous other errors increase. Indeed, nurse fatigue is “strongly associated with negative impact on nurses’ health and the quality of the patient care they provide.” The fact that rest breaks are incredibly important to high-quality patient care also passes the common-sense test: if the nurse performing your post-operative brain surgery cares has not had 15 minutes in the past 12 hours to sit down and eat lunch in order to maintain her blood glucose levels, are her shaking, food-deprived hands really in the best interests of you, the patient?
We as nurses get into the profession to take care of others in their most vulnerable time of need. We cannot do that to the best of our ability, which is what we all strive to do, if we are not allowed to take care of ourselves. And that is what WSNA’s rest breaks bill is all about.
Unfortunately, this common-sense bill has hit some turbulence in the Washington state Senate that may prevent it from passing. Hospital administrators are saying that letting nurses take the rest breaks they are entitled to is just too expensive. In fact, the Hospital Association’s tactics at the legislative level are beginning to belie belief. Despite having seen this bill every year since 2010, the Hospital Association continues to develop new excuses for why patients do not deserve nurses who have the opportunity to take reasonable rest breaks: this year, the Hospital Association has said that nurses would take breaks in the middle of an emergency, that organ transplants would be adversely affected and that other health care workers such as respiratory therapists and nursing assistants should be removed from the bill because they don’t deserve the right to uninterrupted rest breaks.
As we all know, these assertions are laughable. Furthermore, what hospital administrators are not admitting is that failing to allow uninterrupted rest breaks is likely much more costly than the alternative.
As nurses across the country know, nurse burnout and turnover have reached endemic levels. At a time when it costs anywhere from $27,000 to $103,000 to replace a nurse, hospitals simply cannot afford to let more nurses walk out the door, and that’s without even getting into the implications of the nursing shortage and a looming nurse retirement boom.
This fact becomes all the more pertinent when one considers the fact that WSNA and other health care unions have won nearly a dozen multimillion-dollar awards on behalf of workers denied their legal rights with respect to rest breaks. There’s a class action lawsuit here, a $2.9 million dollar judgment there, a $5 million dollar settlement just for good measure. At this point, suing hospitals for not providing and/or paying for missed rest breaks has become great business for lawyers as administrators ignore the implications for patient care.
So what’s the lunacy of the rest breaks bill? That it’s even required at all. It’s time for Washington to update its rest breaks standard– patient safety depends on it.
We need your help — this bill will not pass without grassroots member activism. If you think nurses receiving the rest breaks they are entitled to is important to patient care, please: take action and send a note to your Senator here.