“This proposal will make the problem worse”: Washington hospitals oppose bills that address medical staffing shortages

Registered nurse Diane Miller pulls on gloves and other protective equipment as she prepares to enter patient rooms in the COVID acute care unit at UW Medical Center-Montlake, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Seattle. King County, where the hospital is located, has been on a downward trend of COVID-19 cases after two-and-a-half straight months of increases. But the current lull could be, and some experts believe will be, upended as more contagious variants of the virus spread throughout United States. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A pair of bills aimed toward regulating staffing guidelines at hospitals across the Evergreen State has drawn backlash from the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) and many of the healthcare providers that it would affect.

During the current Washington legislative session, state lawmakers are considering House Bill 1868 and Senate Bill 5751—two similar pieces of legislation that would set new standards of practice to regulate hospital staffing and establish minimum standards for all of the state’s hospitals.

Brief summaries of each bill outline the same core concepts for hospitals to follow:

  • Requires the Department of Labor and Industries (Department) to regulate and enforce hospital staffing committees and minimum staffing standards.
  • Establishes minimum staffing standards for specific patient units.
  • Amends the meal and rest breaks and overtime provisions for health care employees
  • Provides administrative enforcement and a private cause of action for violations.

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This would limit the number of patients that healthcare providers can see during their specific shifts. However, representatives of the hospital association fear that these bills would drive up the cost of health care services for patients across Washington.

“Imposing these one-size-fits-all requirements will make many of the care delays we’ve seen during the pandemic a permanent feature in Washington State,” said June Altaras, RN, MultiCare Health System. “We share legislators’ desire to continue supporting the health care teams that have been so strained over the last two years. However, this proposal will make the problem worse.”

WSHA data shows that there’s a current shortage of 6,000 registered nurses in the state. Under the restrictions of these bills, an additional 15,000 nurses and certified nursing assistants would need to be hired at Washington hospitals.

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They estimate it would increase the cost of health care services by $1 billion for patients in need of care.

Another fear is that these bills would draw nurses away from long-term care facilities and nursing homes, where staffing shortages are already leaving elderly and at-risk populations without the attention they need.

“The state does not plan to increase reimbursement rates to cover the increased costs,” Lourdes Schoch, RN, Summit Pacific Medical Center said. “Most of our hospitals in Washington are public hospital districts or not-for-profit and are operating with little to no financial margin. We will not be able to absorb these additional costs and hospitals will be forced to increase costs or cut critical services. I’m concerned about what that would mean for people in my community.”

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Instead of imposing the restrictions suggested by (bills), the Washington State Hospital Association has offered the following suggestions for legislators:

  • Increase investments in health care education in Washington state, including adding more slots to nursing education programs, further increasing pay for nurse instructors, expanding innovative apprenticeship programs, and adding financial and social support for people pursuing a nursing degree.
  • Increase payment rates for the long-term care system so patients with no medical need can move out of hospitals and ease the number of patients nurses are caring for.
  • Support and strengthen Washington state’s current nurse staffing committee model that brings together frontline staff and nurse leaders to develop staffing plans at the local level.
  • Join the interstate nurse compact to allow licensed nurses to more easily move here from other states and begin working. The compact is working already in 25 states, with eight more planning to join.

For more information on the bill and the opposing stance of Washington healthcare providers, click here.


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