WSHA advances new nurse staffing legislation in 2019

January 17, 2019

The proposal aims to ensure Washington state patients have access to quality and safe nursing services

Nurses are critical to the delivery of safe and quality care in Washington state, and it is important that nurses are not fatigued. The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) is advancing a new bill, Senate Bill 5344, Concerning Nurse Fatigue, for the 2019 legislative session to address concerns about missed meal or breaks and nurse fatigue. The proposal builds on the successful work addressing the issue of nurse staffing brought in 2017. Overall, the purpose of SB 5344 is to assure that safe and expert nursing services are available to Washington residents.

WSHA carefully developed SB 5344 to address the complex issue of safe nurse staffing. There are several key components of the proposal aimed at addressing nurse fatigue. The bill:

  • Expands the complaint process established jointly with hospitals and nursing unions to include complaints about missed meal and rest breaks. The enhanced complaint process will allow hospitals and nurses to find solutions that work at the local level while ensuring patient safety.
  • Establishes a maximum-hours-worked requirement to address fatigue for Washington nurses, similar to work-hour limits established for truck drivers and airline pilots. Fatigue is a critical issue that can compromise patient safety and quality of care. SB 5344 proposes a maximum of 60 direct-care hours within a seven-day period for registered nurses.
  • Limits use of prescheduled on-call by requiring hospitals to work to find a replacement if a nurse is called in immediately before or after a regularly scheduled 12-hour shift and the nurse indicates that they are fatigued and cannot work.

“Hospitals take the issue of nurse fatigue seriously. We are dedicated to ensuring that that staff are best equipped to serve patients, which includes not working excessive hours and identifying when fatigue is an issue,” WSHA Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, Chelene Whiteaker said. “We owe it to the patients of Washington state to create a safe, quality-driven environment to achieve the best outcomes for patients.”

SB 5344 was developed with direction from WSHA’s Nurse Staffing Advisory Group. WSHA has previously worked with the Washington State Nurses Association, the Service Employees International Union and United Food and Commercial Workers to develop legislation that supports safe nurse staffing, and hopes to do so again.


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