When lawmakers return to Olympia for the 2023 legislative session, hospitals are asking that they support a multifaceted approach to address health care workforce shortages. These shortages are leading to delays in care and hampering patient access. Hospitals have ambitious and effective public policy proposals to support the health care workforce.
According to the Washington Center for Nursing, only 1.1% of licensed RNs in Washington are unemployed and seeking employment as a nurse and only 2.3% have jobs outside nursing. There are not enough licensed nurses in Washington to fill the thousands of RN vacancies in Washington hospitals. An October 2021 WSHA survey showed hospitals alone need to hire an additional 6,100 nurses to meet current staffing needs. Long-term care, physician offices, and many other health care providers also need staff support.
“The pandemic has accelerated the need to make investments in the health care workforce to ensure people in communities across the state have access to health care services when they are needed,” Cassie Sauer, President and CEO of WSHA said. “Hospitals are making major investments and changes to retain and recruit staff, including significant pay increases and working collaboratively with teams to establish new care models. We’re asking lawmakers to partner with hospitals to ensure Washington remains a top choice for nurses.”
“Our population is aging and needing more hospital services. Hospitals are looking to the future and recognizing there will not be enough nurses to care for everyone,” said Chelene Whiteaker, SVP Government Affairs. “We need to redesign how staffing works in hospitals and need the legislature to support this longer-term journey.”
The legislative package hospitals are requesting addresses both short-term and long-term staffing needs across the health care continuum through retention of current nurses, recruitment of experienced nurses from other states, and investment in the infrastructure needed to train the next generation of nurses. Specific legislative asks include:
Establishing a Statewide Staffing Innovation Collaborative. New models of care that support the current nursing workforce are essential to health care sustainability. These models are more robust in other states. Hospitals are asking the state to establish an independently staffed statewide collaborative of nursing and hospital experts to investigate and share modern innovations in hospital staffing. The collaborative would report to the legislature on its findings.
Strengthening Washington’s model nurse staffing committee law to ensure safe staffing levels in hospitals through increased accountability, consistency and technical assistance.
Creating a hospital-based nurse student loan repayment assistance program funded in partnership between hospitals and the state to attract and retain experienced nurses in Washington.
Joining the Nurse Licensure Compact to ensure nurses moving to Washington can quickly join the workforce. Thirty-seven states and two jurisdictions are already members of the compact, which recognizes the nursing licenses of fellow compact members. Washington loses highly qualified potential recruits because of the much more challenging regulatory structure to work here.
Increasing traveler agency transparency. Currently nurses working as travelers do not know what rate the hospitals are paying agencies and most hospitals do not know how much of the agency fee is being paid to the nurses. Transparency legislation would also include information about the number of traveling nurses working in hospitals near their primary residence.
Investing in workforce development to ensure the patient care needs of the future can be met by:
- Continuation and expansion of the Washington State Nursing Preceptorship Incentive Program to fund nurse preceptor grants.
- Development of a digital communication platform to facilitate clinical placements between nursing schools and health care settings, increasing access to hands on clinical experiences for students, which will allow for the expansion of nursing education programs.
- Standardization of required clinical placement hours required across educational institutions.
Washington state is already a recognized as an excellent state to work as a nurse. According to the latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington state is among the top five highest paying states for nurses. With nationwide staffing shortages, it is critical that steps are taken to retain the current health care workforce, attract nurses to Washington state, and that health care careers continue to be accessible and appealing for students.