Friday, Feb. 22 marks the first cutoff of the state legislative session, when most bills need to advance out of their original policy committee to continue being considered. This session has been especially active for WSHA, as we are working on many high-priority issues that impact health care in our state.
WSHA’s number one issue is to maintain flexibility in hospital staffing. The nursing unions have backed HB 1155 / SB 5190. The bills are sitting in House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means, respectively. We expect them to be voted onward soon. These companion bills would require hospitals to provide completely uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses and certain technicians and technologists, regardless of patient need. It would also place rigid constraints on a hospital’s ability to use prescheduled on-call and overtime with these professionals. We fear this bill would harm patient care in numerous ways, such as by stifling the flow of important information and delaying crucial procedures.
We are promoting an alternative bill, SB 5344, which would empower hospital staffing committees to resolve complaints about missed breaks and cap direct patient care to 60 hours per week across all employers. SB 5344 advanced from the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee on Tuesday night. Its next stop is the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Other important issues include creation of a public option for health insurance coverage, continuation of hospital exemption from Certificate of Need for psychiatric beds, and expansion of current wrongful death laws (in the wake of the tragic Ride-the-Ducks crash in Seattle several years ago).
We strongly support continuing the Certificate of Need exemption for psychiatric beds as our state continues to face a shortage of beds. We support the idea of a public option for health care coverage, though we are concerned with the current proposal, as providers would only be paid the Medicare rate — less than the cost of care — when treating patients with this coverage. We oppose broad expansion of wrongful death laws, since the state already has a robust structure for health care liability. If you aren’t already, I encourage you to subscribe to Inside Olympia, which will give you weekly updates on all the issues we’re tracking, and how they impact you. I look forward to continuing to serve you in Olympia this session and strengthening the health care community for our residents.