SEATTLE – Today the state Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce heard public testimony in support of SB 5236, which would create safe staffing standards to protect the health and safety of healthcare workers and patients in Washington.
SB 5236 would direct the Department of Labor and Industries, through a stakeholder rulemaking process, to create safe staffing standards that protect any single nurse or healthcare worker from being assigned dangerously high patient loads, which will ensure hospital executives hire enough staff to ensure worker and patient safety. Safe staffing standards are the solution healthcare workers are calling for to address the statewide hospital staffing crisis.
More than 2,055 Washington healthcare workers, patients, and patient advocacy organizations signed in in support of the safe staffing bill – more than twice the number of hospital executives and managers who signed in in opposition.
“I have served on the staffing committee at our hospital for many years and have chaired that committee for the last year and a half,” said Nonie Kingma, a psychiatric nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane. “I am here to tell you it is infuriating to sit in committee month after month, year after year and see how our staffing guidelines are breached every single day on many units a day leaving nurses in untenable, dangerous and heartbreaking situations.”
As healthcare workers have continually made clear, the current hospital staffing crisis is a direct result of burnout stemming from years of inadequate staffing, not a problem of not enough available staff. State hospital executives estimate they need to hire 6,100 nurses, and data directly from the WA Department of Health indicates there are approximately 16,000 actively licensed nurses in Washington who are not currently working in nursing.
“Less than one year ago I provided testimony on HB 1868 hoping this state would pass a law ensuring nurses and patients had safe healthcare environments – instead, staffing got worse,” said Kelli Johnson, a nurse at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. “Not because this state isn't educating enough nurses. The shortage is not nurses, the shortage is safe work environments. No amount of money can keep nurses repeatedly experiencing moral injury and burnout.”
Mountains of evidence support healthcare workers’ call for safe staffing standards, including a report published last year by Patricia Pittman, Ph.D., FAAN, a leading healthcare workforce researcher at George Washington University’s Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity, looking at 30 years of research on nurse staffing levels, including in California, where safe staffing standards like those proposed in Washington already exist. Additionally, a recent study published in Nursing Outlook by national nursing policy researcher Linda Aiken concluded that safe staffing standards set by the state are the only policy successful at improving working conditions.
“Implementing safe staffing standards in every Washington hospital is the one thing that will make patient care safe again and keep healthcare workers like me at the bedside,” said Melissa Swetland, an emergency department nurse at St. Anne Hospital in Burien. “Patient care is devastated, and that’s devastating for those of us at the bedside. Where I work, folks’ fingers are on the send button to resign. They are ready to move to outpatient care, retire — frankly, anything else. Safe staffing standards will make the difference for us.
The WA Safe + Healthy campaign is a coalition of healthcare workers calling on Washington legislators to pass safe staffing standards for the health and safety of both workers and patients. Collectively, the Washington State Nurses Association, UFCW 3000 and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW represent more than 75,000 healthcare workers in the state of Washington. Learn more at wasafeandhealthy.com.