Washington's nurse ratios bill gets first hearing

Washington's Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce held a public hearing on Jan. 17 for a bill that would create minimum staffing standards across the state's hospitals. Senate Bill 5236 has garnered strong support from nurses and opposition from the Washington State Hospital Association. 

The bill itself does not set staffing standards. Instead, the legislation would direct the Department of Labor and Industries to set staffing standards for healthcare workers, including nurse-to-patient ratios. It would have the state develop the standards with input from all stakeholders — including hospital management — over the next few years. Ratios would be developed by Jan. 1, 2027, and hospitals would be required to follow them by July of that year. A similar bill that set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios ultimately failed to become law during the state's 2022 legislative session.

The Washington State Nurses Association supports SB 5236, calling safe staffing standards "the solution healthcare workers are calling for to address the statewide hospital staffing crisis" in a Jan. 17 statement. More than 2,055 healthcare workers, patients and advocacy organizations have signed on in support of the bill. 

Meanwhile, the state's hospital association opposes the bill and is proposing an alternative legislation package that focuses on addressing workforce shortages.

"Mandated hospital staffing ratios do nothing to address the challenges facing the entire healthcare system," Washington State Hospital Association said in a statement to NBC affiliate KGW8. "The bill would impose rigid one-size fits all ratios on hospitals across the state, regardless of the experience of nurses or complexity of the patients." 

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