News in Nursing

State Senator Sparks Outrage, Says Nurses “Play Cards For a Considerable Amount of the Day”

Washington Sen. Maureen Walsh is being slammed for saying that nurses "play cards for a considerable amount of the day"

State Senator Slammed for Saying Nurses “Play Cards For a Considerable Amount of the Day”

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Washington State Senator Maureen Walsh (R-Wala Wala) is being slammed for making remarks about nurses in small hospitals, suggesting that nurses in critical access hospitals “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

On April 16, 2019, the Washington State Senate was considering a bill called SHB 1155. The SHB 1155 bill in Washington State would protect nurses from working mandatory, unplanned overtime and restrict interruptions during breaks for meals and rest.

According to CNN, Walsh was arguing her support for an amendment that would exempt rural critical access hospitals, along with hospitals that have less than 25 beds, from this bill. She said, “By putting these types of mandates on a critical access hospital that literally serves a handful of individuals, I would submit to you those nurses probably do get breaks. They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

Walsh went on to say, “I understand helping with employees and making sure that we have rest breaks and things like that. But I also understand that we need to care for patients first and foremost.”

Over the past week, her remarks have caused a major backlash among nurses in the United States. The Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) said that Walsh’s remarks are “demeaning” and hold “zero logic” with covering nurses in only some hospitals, “while leaving others without any protections.”

Matthew Keller, WSNA’s director of nursing practice and health policy, stated in a post on the organization’s website, “No, Senator, nurses are not sitting around playing cards. They are taking care of your neighbors, your family, your community.” Keller also brought up that this amendment, if passed, would make it even more difficult to hire nurses in rural hospitals and facilities.

Alongside of her support for this amendment, Walsh also introduced another amendment to the SHB 1155 bill that would limit nurses from working more than eight hours a day. She commented, “Well, if we have an issue with nurses getting tired, let’s quit letting them do 12-hour shifts, let’s let them do 8-hour shifts. Like most standard shifts are. Twelve hours, I know they want it, but then they come back and they start talking out of both sides of the mouth and telling us how tired they are.”

Walsh’s amendment also has its own repercussions. Limiting a nurse’s shift to only 8 hours can easily affect their livelihood. Because it would be strict prohibition, nurses would not be able stay longer than the 8 hours, even for emergencies or if it concerns patient safety. Nurses wouldn’t even be able to work more than 8 hours if they wanted to. According to a post by the President and CEO of Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA), Cassie Sauer, “A nurse could be in the middle of a life-saving surgical procedure and there would be no exception to allow them to stay and complete their work.”

It’s a standard practice for nurses to work at least three 12-hour shifts a week. Sauer goes on to say that this schedule was “developed primarily at [the nurses’] request. If the amendment becomes law, nurses would need to work five days a week to earn full-time pay.”

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the bill, with both of the amendments included. The House originally passed the bill on March 6, but now it will head back to the House for it to approve the two added amendments before going to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk, who is also a 2020 presidential nominee.

Senator Walsh’s response to the backlash

In response to the backlash, Walsh provided a CNN affiliate, KEPR TV, with a lengthy statement. Walsh not only asserted that she has the “greatest respect for nurses”, she also stated that her mother was a registered nurse for years.

Walsh said in her statement, “The comment made about the ability to play cards was referring to the staff at the very rural and small critical access hospitals who may only serve a handful of patients and the staffing mandates are unnecessary [...] The fact is 61% of our critical access hospitals are in the red and the mandated breaks and lunch hours are not an issue in these facilities across the state. These are smaller, rural hospitals with much fewer patients than our hospitals and the bill is not necessary for them in meeting the needs of their patients or the hospital’s budget.”

However, the WSNA challenged her claim and presented data from the Washington Department of Health, showing a majority of the critical access hospitals with a net income in 2017 in the millions or more over a four-year period. Also, approximately 70% of hospitals in Washington operate with a surplus. Heather Weiner, a Washington State Nurses Association spokeswoman, told CNN that most hospitals with a surplus budget can actually afford to bring on another nurse or technician.

Petitions have been circulating since the senator’s comments

Over the weekend, a couple of petitions have been circulating on social media throughout the weekend. One of them, demanding Walsh to shadow a nurse for a 12-hour shift, has almost 600,000 signatures. The petition has reached its original goal of 500,000 signatures over the weekend, and now has 1 million signatures as its target. Both nurses and non-nurses have signed the petition, some of them citing that the senator’s comments are “ignorant” and “misinformed”.

Juliana Bindas, who organized the petition, said, “Senator Maureen Walsh stated that we as nurses spend our 12 hour shifts playing cards. I would like to take a stand and petition to have the Senator experience what really happens during an RN’s 12 hour shift. She most likely won’t be playing uno….”

Members of the WSNA and the WSHA are also urging nurses to take action against the bill. Cassie Sauer, of the WSHA, told Washington nurses to call their House members and tell them “how bad this would be”, and to also call other nurses and ask nurse unions and other House members to help. She ends her statement, “Tell them to oppose the eight-hour work limit amendment to SHB 1155.”

According to MYNorthwest, Democrats in the State House are trying to remove both of the amendments from the bill.

When asked for a comment on the bill, Governor Jay Inslee said during a bill signing at the state’s capitol, “We hope that a good bill gets to my desk [...] I’m very empathetic with the nurses on unduly burdening them so they can’t be proficient in their work and so I just hope this gets resolved in a way that we have serious legislation.”