Safe nurse staffing bill officially signed into law

Gov. Inslee signed a safe staffing bill that will improve working conditions for nurses and healthcare workers throughout the state.

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Gov. Inslee signs safe nurse staffing bill (ESSB 5236) into law, April 20, 2023.

Yesterday Gov. Inslee signed a safe staffing bill (ESSB 5236), which will improve working conditions for nurses and healthcare workers throughout the state. Our hard-fought victory for safer staffing was won in coalition with UFCW 3000 and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

This is the final step in a long process, one that was only possible because of the countless actions taken by thousands of members like you – sharing your stories, posting photos with placards, contacting your lawmakers, and demanding we do something to address the burnout and staffing crisis. That means that as of yesterday, our bill is law. This is real and meaningful progress towards safer staffing and better hospital accountability.

In order for the bill to pass, a compromise was reached: minimum staffing standards — or staffing ratios — along with financial penalties, are built in as a corrective action plan that could be required by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in case of noncompliance, establishing a different path to ratios than the solution we called for initially. This bill, however, closes many of the loopholes and weaknesses in existing law, and moves to the forefront patient safety and the working conditions of nurses and healthcare workers.

The new safe staffing law will:

  • Strengthen accountability for complying with hospital staffing plans set by staffing committees.
  • Eliminate CEO veto power over those plans.
  • Create uniform reporting forms, which will mean that patients and healthcare workers can more easily understand how many staff should be present.
  • Require hospitals to report noncompliance to DOH with an opportunity for staffing committee co-chairs to verify the validity of the hospital’s reports.
  • Allow DOH and L&I to issue corrective action plans that could require minimum staffing standards and fines.
  • Expand staffing committees to include LPNs, CNAs, and other direct patient care staff in addition to RNs.
  • Expand meal and rest break laws to include all frontline staff.
  • Close loopholes to make mandatory overtime laws fully enforceable.
  • Allow L&I to issue escalating penalties for missed breaks.
  • Funds the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to conduct a study of existing staffing plans.

Laws take time to implement, but it’s important to know how this will impact you and your hospitals. Over the coming months we will be distributing materials to make sure all of our members are in the loop and know what to expect in an implementation timeline.

In the meantime, we deserve to celebrate what we’ve accomplished. The WA Safe + Healthy Coalition is planning victory parties around the state on Thursday, May 11th from 6-8pm. The locations of each are listed below:

  • Seattle: Seattle Labor Temple, 5030 1st Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98134
  • Spokane: UFCW 3000 Office, 2805 N. Market St., Spokane, WA 99207
  • Tri-Cities: Location TBD
  • Silverdale: UFCW 3000 Office, 3888 NW Randall Way #105, Silverdale, WA 98383
  • Tacoma: Shiloh Baptist Church, 1211 S I St, Tacoma, Washington 98405
  • Mt Vernon: UFCW 3000 Office, 1510 N 18th St, Mt. Vernon, WA 98273
  • Everett: Snohomish County Labor Temple, 2810 Lombard Ave, Everett, WA 98201
  • Olympia: Washington State Labor Council, 906 Columbia St. SW (2nd floor), Olympia, WA 98501
  • Yakima: SEIU 1199NW Office, 415 N 20th Ave., Yakima, WA 98902

We sent a clear message to legislators this session: hospitals need to be held accountable for safe staffing to protect patients and healthcare workers - and legislators listened! This hard-fought victory is a big step towards safer staffing.