Washington’s health care workers and patients banded together this year to address our health care staffing crisis and – despite significant pushback from the hospital industry – won a major victory. Governor Inslee signed the Safe Staffing bill (SB 5236) into law on April 20th, following passage in the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support. The House passed the bill on Thursday April 6th with a vote of 92 to 6 and the Senate passed the bill a month earlier 35-13.
The pandemic made our pre-existing staffing crisis go from bad to worse, with half of recently polled health care workers stating they were likely to leave the health care field in coming years, largely due to inadequate staffing. Years of poor working conditions, high patient-to-staff ratios, and a lack of enforcement of existing protections have led to burnout and what experts now call “moral injury”, when workers experience high levels of psychological impact.
Years of organizing, negotiating, striking, and pushing for safer working conditions have contributed to this victory for Washington’s workers and patients. The bill was launched last year but died in a Senate committee after passing the House. This year, significant negotiations between nurses and hospital representatives resulted in a strong compromise bill, that, while not as strong as the original text, is still an important step forward. 76% of recently surveyed Washington voters support safe staffing standards and it shows – tens of thousands of advocates supported the bill throughout session in hearings and by sending messages to legislators.
SB 5236 will improve working conditions for frontline health care staff by:
- Strengthening hospital staffing plan accountability
- Expanding meal and rest break laws to include all frontline staff, rather than just nurses
- Improving overtime law enforcement and accountability
- Establishing a study to evaluate existing staffing plans
This bill is a crucial step forward for Washington’s health care system – because a win for workers is a win for us all!
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