Safe nurse staffing has been a WSNA focus and concern for many years. We have been working diligently to improve contract language regarding nurse staffing in each contract, as we know safe staffing is tied to adequate breaks and lunches, nurse job satisfaction, recruitment and retention of nurses, and primarily, SAFETY for nurses and patients.
In 2008, WSNA nurses were instrumental in getting legislation passed in both the House and Senate to assure that:
“All hospitals, including state hospitals for the mentally ill, are required to establish a nurse staffing committee, which may be a new committee or an existing committee assigned to those functions.
At least half of the committee members must be registered nurses providing direct patient care. Employee participation in nurse staffing committees must be on scheduled work time and be paid at the appropriate rate of pay.
Critical access hospitals may use flexible approaches, including allowing the staffing committee to work by telephone or electronic mail.” (Ruckelshaus)
(See House Bill 3123 for more info)
This bill “established Nurse Staffing Committees and was mutually supported by unions, hospitals, and nurse executives, enacted by the Legislature, and signed by the Governor in 2008. The law requires hospital-level committees to produce staffing plans to be submitted to hospital CEOs and posting of unit-specific plans and schedules in each patient care area.”
Now we have a newer bill, passed in May of 2017, which adds strength to Nurse Staffing Committees in several ways:
“Safe nurse staffing is essential to delivering high-quality care to patients,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “This bill is the result of hard work and collaboration by legislators, hospitals and nursing organizations. I am pleased to sign this legislation into law."
The Patient Safety Act, which updates the 2008 nurse staffing law, was a joint effort between nursing groups (i.e. WSNA) and the Washington State Hospital Association. This effort will strengthen nurse staffing committees and staffing plans for nurses in hospitals across the state.
The Patient Safety Act requires that hospital administrators work with nurses on staffing committees to develop a staffing plan, and that hospitals submit their adopted staffing plan to the Washington State Department of Health by January 2019. Here are some ways that the new Patient Safety Act strengthens the existing Nurse Staffing Committees:
- Requires that the committee takes into account the needs of patients as a primary component in addition to hospital resources and finance when developing a plan and that facilities have control over changes in the plan.
- Allowing nurses to file complaints with the hospital’s staffing committee and/or the Department of Health if the staffing plan isn’t followed and requires that DOH investigate documented complaints. If a hospital fails to correct a substantiated violation, DOH can impose a civil penalty of $100 per day.
- Requiring that DOH maintain public inspection records of any civil penalties, administrative actions, or license suspensions or revocations imposed on hospitals. (WSNA summary)
So, what can you do now to help our cause?
- 1. Support the Safe Staffing Committee members by keeping them informed of issues that come up in each unit by filling out a complaint form, in a timely manner, to be presented at the monthly safe staffing meetings. These complaints will be discussed and “accepted or dismissed” and then marked “resolved or unresolved.” Our safe staffing committee will be tracking these complaints in order to take further action.
- 2. Volunteer to be a part of the safe staffing committee by contacting one of your local unit officers. We prefer to have a diverse group with representation from every department in the hospital to encompass varying points of view and different issues to be addressed. You can be a very important voice and have a real say in how your unit is staffed!
The law requires at least 50% registered nurses providing direct patient care to hospital administration for committee membership. The current members of KVH’s safe staffing committee are Home Health and Hospice Cindy Knight, Med/Surg-CCU Kathy Honeysett, ED Rachel Drummond, OB Angie Seim, SOP Lynn Pownall, OR Kay Greenwood and local unit officer’s Jenn Crane, Andria Graham and Cody Staub.