Sen. Maureen Walsh has garnered national attention for comments she made on the Senate floor last week. Walsh made the comments while asserting that nurses at critical access hospitals should be exempt from a bill that, in part, would require hospitals to give uninterrupted meal and rest breaks to certain employees — including licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and certified nursing assistants.
“I’m in an underserved area, and all we’re doing is making it more difficult to be served,” Walsh 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 was speaking in support of an amendment proposed by Sen. Curtis King that ultimately passed on a 26-21 vote, excluding critical access hospitals and hospitals with fewer than 25 acute care beds from break- and overtime-related requirements in the bill.
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CNN reported on Walsh’s comments, and related petitions are gathering signatures. One such effort urging Walsh to shadow a nurse for a 12-hour shift had over 597,000 signatures at the time this article was published.
Mathew Keller, Director of Nursing Practice and Health Policy at the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), featured Walsh’s comments in a blog post two days after the floor debate. Jennifer Muhm, Director of Public Affairs at WSNA, said Keller’s post generated enough web traffic to crash WSNA’s website “for a number of hours.”
“Clearly nurses work in very intense roles, caring for people who are in a hospital because, generally, they are not having a very good day,” Muhm said. “And, these jobs are hard, and they’re demanding. And so, I think for this whole profession to be told they were playing cards was just very offensive to nurses everywhere.”
Another amendment to the bill that passed, which Walsh herself proposed, prohibits the employees included in the bill from working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period.
In a video posted by KOMO’s Keith Eldridge on Twitter, Walsh said she was surprised her amendment passed with Democratic support, saying she’s “quite sure” it was a strategy on the part of the Democrats.
“Being in the minority, oftentimes amendments to bills are the only voice that we have to actually show our attitude and opinion about the bill,” Walsh said in the video. “And so, I presented this amendment. And, frankly, was very surprised that the Democratic party embraced the amendment and supported it fully, and even had one of their members get up and speak strongly in support of it.”
Walsh also said there were “union reps in the wings, handing off notes” to Democratic senators and influencing the vote for the amendment. Muhm said WSNA and other unions did not support either amendment.
“We didn’t know about the amendment until it was actually posted on the legislative website, right before the floor action,” Muhm said. “And the three nursing unions, together, as soon as we saw that amendment — we sent an email in to senators asking them to vote no on that amendment. And then, also, sent in an email asking them to vote no on the other amendment, to exclude critical access hospitals.”
Over the weekend, the Tri-City Herald reported that Walsh “regrets” the comment, citing the fact that she “was tired.” Muhm brought up that explanation, saying it points to why this bill is necessary for nurses.
“We know that Sen. Walsh has apologized for the remarks there, and we understand that she said she was tired and she made a mistake,” Muhm said. “And, really, that’s the point of this bill: That when nurses and other front-line health care workers are tired, the potential to make mistakes increases dramatically. And, that’s why the breaks and overtime protections in this bill are urgently needed.”
The bill now goes back to the House, where representatives would need to concur on the amendments in order for the bill to pass as-is. Rep. Marcus Riccelli, the prime sponsor on the bill, has signaled that he doesn’t support the amendments on Twitter:
Sen. Karen Keiser also commented online, tweeting that the bill “needs to be put back together after it was blown to bits on the Senate floor,” and calling for rejection of both amendments.
Video of the Senate floor debate is available online via TVW.
This article was cross-posted on our sister site, State of Reform.