Recently, nurses have had a lot to fight for. The plight of nurses and poor working conditions have been increasingly prevalent in the public news circuit thanks to stories like the horrific loss of nurse Lynne Truxillo, who passed away from complications of a patient attack, the fatal med error by a former Vanderbilt nurse, and the narrowly avoided nursing strike in New York City. With the added attention given to these issues and intensifying pressure from nurses across the country, many state legislatures are introducing and debating bills relating to nursing practice, working conditions, and healthcare practices.
In Washington state, SHB 1155 was introduced to protect nurses who work 12 hours and ensure they receive adequate lunch and rest breaks, as well as a limit on mandatory overtime. In an effort to cause problems with the bill, an amendment has been added to mandate 8 hour shifts for nurses, which deviates from the industry standard of 12 hour shifts. This amendment to the bill is widely unsupported by nurses, other healthcare workers, and respected industry groups such as the Washington State Hospital Association. The negative impact would be felt by all patients across the state of Washington and a terrible example would be made for the rest of the country.
Although this is an incredibly important issue, why all the crazy fuss on social media and in the news? The main supporter of the amendment to the bill, State Senator Maureen Walsh, made astonishing comments on April 16th during a floor debate pertaining to her feelings about the work load she feels her state’s nurses are carrying. Some of the comments were as follows:
“If nurses get tired, let’s stop letting them do 12 hours shifts. Let’s make them do 8-hour shifts. 12 hours, I know they want it but, then they come back and start talking out of both sides of their mouth and telling us how tired they are. I understand 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. I would submit to you that those nurses probably do get breaks! They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day!”
-State Senator Maureen Walsh
These comments are not only disrespectful and inflammatory, but they show a disgusting trend among some people who are in a position of power or influence as well as regular citizens, and that is complete disregard for the nursing profession. This attitude is ever-growing, and certainly is felt by nurses on a daily basis as they are being treated like a warm body who is there to work non-stop and put up with any disrespect, violence, or poor condition that is thrown their way without a second thought.
Understandably, nurses, other healthcare workers, and physicians are coming out in droves against Senator Walsh and her inexcusable comments. Why? Because everyone is sick of this attitude and those who use it to fight against beneficial policies that would make healthcare better. A similar situation was seen with Joy Behar’s 2015 comments on The View about a nurse wearing “a doctor’s stethoscope” and how “hilarious” she found it. Healthcare workers, nurses, and physicians among many others came out for nurses as well as several advertisers, who pulled valuable advertising from The View.
The facts about nursing conditions are simply that – facts. Poor working conditions, such as missed breaks and extensive mandatory overtime, are translating to poor nursing care. We know that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the USA. Why would we want to continue to mistreat our nurses and risk the continuation of these errors? We are not only risking the lives of patients, but also the health and well-being of our nurses and other healthcare workers. Perpetuating ideas such as those by Joy Behar and State Senator Walsh is going to continue a detrimental trend in healthcare and lead to worsening outcomes for our patients. We can no longer sit silently.
If you’d like to stand behind nurses, please speak up with your state legislature when able, and drop a line or two to State Senator Walsh. Nurses and patients alike thank you.