Malta Independent

Washington state lawmaker’s comments raise ire of nurses


A Washington state lawmaker has angered nurses and spawned a flurry of viral hashtags and memes on social media by saying that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in small, rural hospitals.

State Sen. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representi­ng College Place, Washington, made the comments this week while debating a Senate bill that would require uninterrup­ted meal and rest breaks for nurses. The bill would also provide mandatory overtime protection­s for nurses.

Walsh wants an amendment that would exclude hospitals with fewer than 25 beds from the breaks, The Olympian reported on Friday.

Small, rural hospitals “that literally serve a handful of individual­s” will have trouble staying open and nurses in those settings “probably play cards for a considerab­le amount of the day,” the newspaper quoted Walsh as saying.

A Washington State Nurses Associatio­n blog about the comments drew so many readers Friday that the site crashed. The group called the comment disrespect­ful and patronizin­g.

The hashtags #maureenwal­sh and #nursesplay­cards went viral on social media. Comedian Kathy Griffin joined the fray Friday, tweeting that her mother worked in a hospital.

“Thank you of alerting me to a group that even I am not stupid enough to piss off. Ever,” Griffin tweeted.

Walsh didn’t respond to a request for comment from the newspaper.

Recruiting nurses to rural facilities already is difficult and exempting them from laws requiring uninterrup­ted breaks and subjecting them to mandatory overtime would make recruiting more difficult, the Washington State Nurses Associatio­n said.

The bill passed the state Senate with the amendment excluding small hospitals. It had previously passed the House without the amendment.

The different House and Senate versions of the bill will have to be reconciled before being signed into law.

The bill specifical­ly requires that nurses and some other staff, such as surgical technologi­sts and diagnostic radiologic technologi­sts, be provided uninterrup­ted meal and rest periods, except when there is an unforeseea­ble circumstan­ce.

If a rest break is interrupte­d before 10 complete minutes, an additional 10-minute break is required. It also would prohibit health care facilities from using what the nurses associatio­n considers a legal loophole to require overtime.

The associatio­n said it has tried to address the issues of skipped breaks and mandatory overtime with individual contract bargaining and litigation, but the problem remains pervasive.

Rest breaks are proven to address fatigue, which can lead to medical errors, it said.

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