Washington healthcare workers relaunch campaign for patient load limits

A coalition of healthcare workers in Washington has relaunched efforts for state legislation that would limit the number of patients workers care for at a given time.

The coalition relaunched the WA Safe + Healthy campaign Jan. 5 during the start of the 2023 legislative session. Workers, including members of the Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW, supported efforts for safe staffing standards during the 2022 legislative session. However, proposed staffing legislation that would have limited the number of patients direct care registered nurses could be assigned for any shift ultimately failed to become law. Now, the coalition is ramping up efforts again.

Nurses and other healthcare workers contend that staffing has not improved since the 2022 legislative session.

"It's important for Washingtonians to understand that while many aspects of our lives have returned to normal, the lives and working conditions of healthcare workers have not," Jane Hopkins, RN, president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, said in a coalition news release. "Healthcare workers are burned out and beyond their breaking points."

The coalition says this burnout stems from inadequate staffing, and the cause must be addressed by state-passed safe staffing standards. They contend that existing staffing committees have not been able to effectively address the issue and that new workers entering the field will not solve it.

On the same day the coalition relaunched its campaign, the Washington State Hospital Association outlined its own legislative asks. 

These include forming a statewide staffing innovation collaborative; strengthening the state's model nurse staffing committee law; establishing a hospital-based nurse student loan repayment assistance program; and joining the nurse licensure compact. 

"The pandemic has accelerated the need to make investments in the health care workforce to ensure people in communities across the state have access to health care services when they are needed," Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of WSHA, said in a news release. "Hospitals are making major investments and changes to retain and recruit staff, including significant pay increases and working collaboratively with teams to establish new care models. We're asking lawmakers to partner with hospitals to ensure Washington remains a top choice for nurses."

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