A Senate Bill looking to reduce unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios is progressing through the Senate Committee.

Last month, two nurses/union officers working at Confluence Health expressed their own problems with understaffing and burnout.

On Feb. 16, the Senate Ways & Means Committee held a public hearing for SB 5236, which is proposing to regulate minimum staffing standards in hospitals, along with amending meal/rest breaks and overtime provisions for health care employees.

During the hearing, Jennifer Gordon, who has been working as an RN for 14 years, supports the bill and said that hospitals continued to pit nurses into short-staffed work environments throughout the last year.

“In the absence of legal consequences, they continue to squeeze the life out of our state's most essential workforce with impunity,” Gordon said. “Carrots have been ineffective for too long, it's time for the stick.”

Kainui Rapaport testified in support of this bill, stating that many experienced nurses are leaving due to stress in the workplace.

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“We are hiring a lot of new grads but our experienced nurses are leaving in droves,” Rapaport said. “New nurses don't know how to advocate for themselves, but we will.”

Evan Riley, a surgical nurse for Virginia Mason, supported this bill stating that patients are put at-risk if they are understaffed.

“Patients are left in their own vomit, incontinence, or in pain, simply because there's not enough staff to care for patients,” Riley said. “I want you to imagine your family member in one of these situations. Imagine your mom or dad, your grandma or grandpa, in pain, alone, wet, dirty, and unsafe because the nurses and nursing assistants tasked with caring for them are too understaffed and cannot reach patients in a safe and timely manner.”

Dr. John Bramhall with the Washington State Medical Association, and who works as an anesthesiologist with Harborview Medical Center, testified against the bill, stating that hospital staff are skilled in moving nurses around to keep staffing levels safe and flexible.

“We think it will cause a combination of rigid staffing ratios together with an aging population who will need more hospital services,” Dr. Bramhall said. “[With] a shortage of nurses, it's going to lead to delays in access to care if these kinds of rules are implemented fully.”

Colville Tribal Business Councilwoman Norma Sanchez said she opposed this bill due to its potential impact against the already overstressed maternity ward at Coulee Medical Center.

“The bill removes local control of staffing standards for hospital staff and communities,” Sanchez said. “When our District's Board of Commissioners finally acknowledges their moral obligations to continue obstetrician services, this bill will delay care and lead to the eventual closure of the services.”

CEO of Forks Community Hospital Heidi Anderson said this bill would bring negative ripple effects to rural communities who contend with low staffing.

“There are not enough nurses available to hire. We have an operating room used primarily for emergency surgeries and we used to have a labor and delivery unit,” Anderson said. “But we closed it recently, indefinitely, a few months ago, due to staffing shortages.”

This bill will be seen before the Senate Ways & Means Committee during an executive session on Feb. 24, at 9 a.m.

Other bills that progressed through the Senate Committee include SB 5582, which proposes to remove barriers for nurse education and training, and SB 5103, which proposes to bill the Health Care Authority (HCA) and the Department of Social and Health Services $700 per day to hospitals for patients who are defined as “difficult-to-discharge” patients.

You can watch the Senate Ways & Means Committee hearing here.

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