OLYMPIA (March 29, 2019) — Hospital registered nurses and other frontline caregivers in Washington represented by three unions say a common sense bill moving through the legislature is urgently needed to protect patient safety.
The three unions for hospital caregivers — United Food & Commercial Workers 21 (UFCW), SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, and the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) — say they’ve accepted clarifying and improving amendments that give hospital administrators more implementation flexibility.
The bipartisan bill (SHB 1155) addresses chronic and dangerous fatigue by requiring hospitals to provide registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants and hospital technicians with uninterrupted breaks during their long shifts of 10, 12, or more hours. The legislation also closes a loophole to stop hospitals from abusing mandatory overtime for nurses.
TAKE ACTION! Please visit BreaksAreALifesaver.org to send your state senator a message to vote YES on this important patient-safety legislation. SHB 1155 will help ensure our nurses and caregivers are well-rested and alert, and help reduce medical errors and ensure quality care for Washingtonians.
“This is a big patient safety issue in Washington hospitals because hungry, tired, and overworked medical staff aren’t as alert as we should be,” said Natalia Cruz, Surgical Tech at Valley Medical Center in Renton, and a UFCW 21 member. “When hospital managers demand we work without our breaks, they increase the chances of medical errors, putting patient safety at risk.”
On average, 400,000 patients die each year in the U.S. from avoidable medical errors, according to a study in the Journal of Patient Safety. Medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the US after cancer and heart disease. Avoidable medical errors cost an estimated $19.5 billion annually in the U.S., including medical expenses, mortality, and loss of productivity.
“When we’re rested, we’re alert, focused, and ready to make life and death decisions,” explained Martha Galvez, WSNA member, and a labor and delivery nurse at Kadlec in Richland. “But when our breaks are interrupted, it isn’t just bad for me, it’s bad for my patients.”
Washington hospitals have been successfully sued dozens of times for failing to protect patient safety with uninterrupted rest breaks. Many other states, including Oregon and California, already require hospitals to provide uninterrupted breaks and prohibit mandatory overtime to protect patient safety.
“As an emergency department registered nurse, my job often determines whether my patients leave the hospital in their own car to go home, an ambulance to Harborview, or a body bag to the morgue,” said Steven Higgs, a nurse at Olympic Medical Center in Clallam County and an SEIU Healthcare 1199NW member. “I take my job very seriously because my next patient may be my child’s school friend, my neighbor’s sister, or my own family member. I work 12 to 16 hour shifts and have to miss a third of my breaks or more every week. Think about it, do you want the nurse taking care of your child or parent to be firing on all cylinders, or hungry, tired, and burnt out?”
The House passed the bill, 63-34, earlier this month with bipartisan support. The Senate Labor & Commerce Committee recently passed the bill with amendments and it is now awaiting approval by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, which has twice before passed versions of the bill. If they again advance the bill, a full vote of the Senate will be the only remaining vote to deliver this to the governor to sign into law, ensuring patients get safe, quality care in hospitals.
Please send a message to your state senator today and urge passage of SHB 1155.