‘Health care workers are at their breaking points’: Coalition pushes state lawmakers for solutions


The last year has been a difficult one for Washington state’s health care workers, with a coalition now pushing for legislative solutions following a record year for safety complaints.

Mental toll of COVID pandemic could push health care workers to leave

Combined among three health care worker labor groups in Washington, over 8,600 safety complaints were filed last year, ranging in subject matter from “staffing complaints and violations” to “inadequate safety equipment.”

With the omicron variant of COVID-19 continuing to surge across the state, Washington’s hospitals have been feeling the strain presented by the influx of patients combined with ongoing staffing shortages. Those shortages have been driven by COVID infections among staff, as well as burnout from long hours and difficult conditions spanning nearly two years of the pandemic.

“Health care workers are at their breaking points, and multiple polls suggest a dangerous exodus of nurses and other workers on the horizon,” a press release from WA Safe + Healthy (WASH) reads.

WASH operates as a coalition of Washington health care workers, focused on pushing for legislation at the state level to aid the efforts of the state’s health care workers.

It points to a poll of 1,200 health care workers taken in December of 2021, which found that nearly half of those who responded “were likely to quit in the next few years.”

“Among those likely to quit, 71% said short-staffing was one of the biggest reasons,” WASH noted.

A separate study conducted by the University of Washington yielded similarly grim results, with 60% of nurses saying that “burnout made them less likely to remain in health care in the long term.”

Washington medical association urges Inslee to aid hospitals operating at ‘crisis capacity’

WASH is hoping to alleviate some of that strain with a proposed bill this legislative session. In practice, it would limit the number of direct care patients nurses can be assigned to for any single shift, while also setting caps on patient assignments for intensive care units, emergency departments, labor wards, operating rooms, psychiatric units, and more.

This puts the group at odds with the Washington State Hospital Association, which WASH says “has indicated opposition” to the proposal.

Gov. Jay Inslee is hoping to provide more immediate aid in the form of National Guard assistance. On Thursday, he announced the mobilization of 100 Washington National Guard personnel spread across hospitals in Everett, Yakima, Wenatchee, and Spokane, who will “assist with various non-medical tasks.”

The governor will also be looking to boost staffing numbers by investing $30 million of his supplemental budget “to allow nurses, nursing assistants, and medical assistants to achieve their educational and clinical requirements without facing delays caused by limited opportunities for training.”

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