Protect Patient Safety & Access

Two hospital staffing bills pass House, head for final approval

Two important bills aimed at addressing Washington’s health care workforce challenges passed the House this week. The compromise hospital staffing legislation (SB 5236) and the nurse staffing compact (SB 5499) are both headed to the governor’s desk for final approval.

SB 5236 is the result of a compromise between the Washington State Hospital Association and health care unions. It strengthens the state’s current hospital staffing laws while still preserving access to needed hospital care for Washingtonians.

Under current law, nurse staffing committees of management and staff develop each hospital’s annual staffing plan, which the hospital files with the state. Hospitals are already required to staff according to the staffing plan. SB 5236 expands the staffing committee and adds new compliance and enforcement elements to existing law.

The bill requires hospitals to meet their staffing plans 80 percent of the time or face a corrective action plan and hefty fines overseen by the state Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

The law also expands protections for uninterrupted meal and rest breaks to all acute care hospital employees who are involved in direct patient care. This includes requirements for 80 percent compliance reporting and adds new fines for falling below the threshold.

“We are committed to supporting hospitals in meeting the many new requirements of this legislation,” said WSHA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Chelene Whiteaker. “We anticipate this will be challenging, but ultimately this approach addresses the concerns raised by some hospital staff while also preserving access to hospital care across the state.”

SB 5499 allows Washington to join 37 other states and two jurisdictions in the Multistate Nurse Licensure Compact. The compact is an important tool for recruitment and care innovation. It will allow nurses licensed in compact states to provide care via telehealth, across state lines, and while living in Washington temporarily, such as for a spouse’s military assignment, without obtaining another nursing license. It will also ease the transition for nurses from compact states who want to work in Washington.

“We are grateful to lawmakers for their support of efforts to recruit more health care workers to Washington state and ease the burden on our current workforce,” Whiteaker said. “The workforce shortage is a nationwide issue. Joining the compact is just one more way we can make it easier for nurses to work here.”

SB 5499 was one of several legislative workforce proposals WSHA supported this session to recruit and retain health care workers in Washington state in the face of the nationwide shortage.