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Washington bill that would require a higher nurse- to-patient ratio makes it through House committees

Courtesy of Providence Health Care
A bill before the Washington State Legislature would require hospitals to have fewer patients assigned to nurses.

Staffing shortages in medical facilities has prompted a bill that would reduce the number of patients a single nurse can care for in a hospital setting.

House bill 1868 was sponsored by Spokane democratic representative Marcus Riccelli. During a hearing Monday, Lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union local 1199, Lindsey Grad, says the current shortage is a result of management practices.

“Their decisions like hiring freezes, intentionally paying below market, and squeezing more out of their staff everyday are what is causing this,” Grad said. “They have made the job un-doable, and rather than right size around the margins,(make) the job sustainable, they're paying two to four times costs for travelers to cover the burnout they create. This long predates covid. The pandemic is an accelerant but not the source. It has burned through the workforce to the point of collapse.” Lisa Thatcher , state lobbyist for the Washington State Hospital Association, says the cost of implementing the bill would be incredibly high.

“Our conservative estimate is the bill would require Washington hospitals to hire ten thousand nurses and eight thousand CNAs,” Thatcher said. “The reason these numbers are so high is because one extra nurse in a patient to nurse ratio is not just one extra nurse to hire. For each unit adding one nurse means hiring two or three additional nurses, depending if the hospital has two 12-hour shifts, or three 8-hour shifts to cover one day.”

Thatcher says the prohibitive cost of hiring that many nurses could mean hospitals will need to serve less patients.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.