Tell Senators: We need safe staffing now!

With new poll showing half of healthcare workers likely to quit, urge Ways & Means Committee members: Pass SB 5236!


OLYMPIA (Feb. 14, 2023) — Half of Washington’s nurses and healthcare workers are burned out, overwhelmed, and say they are likely to quit the profession over unmanageable patient loads and unsafe hospital staffing levels. They’ve warned us about this for years — since long before the COVID pandemic — and it’s time for us to listen.

Specifically, it’s time for Washington state lawmakers to listen, and do something.

Healthcare workers’ pleas to hospital executives have been ignored, so this is the second year that healthcare workers have asked Washington legislators to step in and approve safe staffing standards. Last year, the legislation passed the House, but died in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. This year’s proposal, Senate Bill 5236, is currently in the same committee and must advance soon or it will suffer the same fate, and the crisis will continue to get worse.

TAKE A STAND — The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO is urging all supporters of healthcare workers and safe staffing to click here and sign in as PRO on SB 5236 in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. This is particularly important if you live in the district of one of the committee’s members: Senators Rolfes (Chair), Robinson (Vice Chair), Mullet (Vice Chair), L. Wilson, Gildon, Schoesler, Rivers, Warnick, Billig, Boehnke, Braun, Conway, Dhingra, Hasegawa, Hunt, Keiser, Muzzall, Nguyen, Pedersen, Saldaña, Torres, Van De Wege, Wagoner, and Wellman.

Safe staffing standards would protect any one healthcare worker from being assigned too many patients at a time, and would make sure hospital executives hire enough staff to ensure worker and patient safety. By reducing burnout and making working conditions safer, healthcare workers say safe staffing standards will address the staffing crisis.

An alarming new poll released Monday by the WA-Safe + Healthy coalition reveals that the hospital staffing crisis could push Washington’s healthcare infrastructure to the brink without the passage of SB 5236 safe staffing standards to help reduce burnout and improve workplace safety.

In the poll, conducted among members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, UFCW 3000, and the Washington State Nurses Association – who collectively represent more than 75,000 healthcare workers in Washington – 49% of healthcare workers in Washington said they are “likely to leave the healthcare profession in the next few years.” Among those who said they were likely to leave, 68% said short-staffing was one of their primary reasons.

Additionally, a staggering 79% of healthcare workers said they were burned out, and nearly half (45%) said they feel unsafe at their job in health care.

“Hospital executives have failed our state’s healthcare workers,” said Alexandra Freeman-Smith, a lab assistant at UW Medical Center – Northwest in Seattle. “We warned them about an impending recruitment and retention crisis for years and they chose to continue to under-staff our hospitals, putting profits above worker and patient safety. New polling showing half of us are likely to quit underscores the urgency for lawmakers to intervene by passing safe staffing standards.”

“Don’t believe hospital executives who say the crisis is due to a shortage of healthcare workers,” said Derek Roybal, a cardiovascular tech at Providence Sacred Heart in Spokane. “They’re just trying to pass the buck on their own mismanagement. There’s no shortage of healthcare workers, just a shortage of healthcare workers willing to risk their lives and their licenses working in the conditions hospitals have created.”

In fact, WA Department of Health data show that there are approximately 16,000 actively licensed nurses in Washington not currently working in nursing. While WA Safe + Healthy coalition partners support increasing workforce development investments like hospitals have called for, executives’ claims that graduating more workers will address the staffing crisis are a red herring.

“Healthcare workers are leaving the bedside at an alarming rate because of unmanageable and unsafe staffing conditions, not because they’ve changed their minds about working in healthcare,” said Erin Allison, an ER nurse at St. Joseph Bellingham. “Graduating more workers into the field won’t matter if we’re just burning them out in two years or less – that’s not addressing the crisis, that’s running in place. The only way we can retain the workers we have, bring back ones we’ve lost, and recruit new ones to the field is by ensuring safe staffing standards.”

The WA Safe + Healthy campaign is a coalition of healthcare workers calling on Washington legislators to pass safe staffing standards for the health and safety of both workers and patients. Collectively, the Washington State Nurses Association, UFCW 3000 and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW represent more than 75,000 healthcare workers in the state.

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