Trevor Gjendem addresses a gathering a hospital staff members, supporters and elected officials on August 24, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Trevor Gjendem addresses a gathering a hospital staff members, supporters and elected officials on August 24, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

New law gives nurses stronger voice in setting hospital staffing levels

Hospital administrators and nurses will craft staffing plans together. The state will be able to make sure plans are followed.

OLYMPIA — Nurses secured a greater role in deciding minimum staffing levels in hospitals across the state under a law signed Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The legislation requires hospital administrators and nurses to agree on the number of staff assigned in each patient care unit, and how workers will be assured of receiving proper rest and meal breaks.

Those details will be written into staffing plans. Hospitals that fail to comply with those plans could face fines and other penalties from the state Department of Health, as well as Labor & Industries. Hospitals with fewer than 25 acute care licensed beds and certified as critical access hospitals are exempt from some of the bill’s provisions.

Senate Bill 5236, sponsored by Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, represents a compromise between nurses and hospital leaders. The two sides battled to a draw in the 2022 session.

“I’m just thrilled that we got it to the finish line,” Robinson said. “It will make conditions better for nurses and patients.”

Nurses pressed hard for specific patient-to-nurse ratios to be written into the bill. Though it didn’t happen, they expressed confidence the new law will get them there eventually while boosting morale immediately.

“We needed something this year. This is very strong,” said Kelli Johnson, an emergency room nurse at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett who attended the bill signing. “I think it’s going to turn things around in the staffing crisis.”

Dana Robison, who works in the labor and delivery area of the same hospital, called it important “scaffolding” on which to build toward getting ratios into staffing plans.

“This is an important beginning to get somewhere better than we are now,” she said.

In signing, Inslee said the legislation will improve safety of nurses and health care workers, and increase hospital accountability.

“This is a step toward addressing the nursing shortage in our state by giving nurses a stronger voice on hospital staffing committees, with the intent to create a safer work environment, less burnout, and higher retention rates,” he said.

Senate Bill 5236 cleared the House on a 92-6 vote. The Senate passed the measure 35-13.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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