Washington healthcare workers plead with state lawmakers for staffing help

Healthcare workers have launched a campaign urging Washington state lawmakers to pass legislation to address what they describe as a statewide staffing crisis.

New daily COVID-19 hospitalization rates in Washington have decreased 7 percent over the last two weeks, according to HHS data tracked by The New York Times

However, healthcare workers — represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, the Washington State Nurses Association and UFCW 21 — said staffing problems persist, and new staffing standards are needed to protect workers from "dangerously high patient loads" as people seek care for all types of issues. Members participating in the "WA Safe + Healthy" campaign contend that new staffing standards will lead to better safety for workers, better patient care and better staffing. 

"Washington has faced a shortage of healthcare workers for years, but the pandemic put longstanding staffing problems into a pressure cooker," their campaign website states. "Now we're at a crisis point. Healthcare workers have asked hospital executives for help, but they were ignored. Now, they're asking state lawmakers to pass safe staffing standards that will let them do their jobs safely and give patients the care they deserve."

According to a new poll released by the campaign conducted among members of UFCW 21, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and Washington State Nurses Association — which collectively represent more than 71,000 nurses and other healthcare workers statewide — about 84 percent of state healthcare workers said they feel burned out, with 49 percent reporting they're likely to leave the healthcare profession in the next few years. Seventy percent of those who said they were likely to leave healthcare cited short staffing as one of the biggest contributing factors, according to a news release from the coalition.

In addition to calling on lawmakers to pass safe staffing standards, the coalition is also urging lawmakers to enforce existing overtime and meal and rest break laws, as well as invest in workforce development to boost the number of workers entering healthcare. 

Meanwhile, hospital leaders in Washington are calling on lawmakers to make it easier to move patients who don't need hospital care to long-term care facilities; asking for deployment of state resources to complete patient evaluations more quickly; and pushing for higher pay for long-term care facility workers to address staffing shortages and increase hiring rates, Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said during a Dec. 13 news briefing, according to The Seattle Times

"We're concerned that a surge of COVID-19 patients could result in people dying, not because others with a desperate need of hospital care are taking up hospital space, but because nonacute patients who cannot be transferred out of the hospital are taking up hospital space," Ms. Briley said, according to the newspaper.

To read the full Seattle Times report, click here. To learn more about the workers' campaign, click here.  

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