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These bills make real progress for Washington nurses

Just in time for National Nurses Week (May 6-12, 2023), the Washington Legislature has made important progress on addressing many of the issues that nurses are facing.

Ensuring adequate staffing and quality care in Washington state's hospitals has been a pressing concern in recent years, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, progress is on the horizon. SB 5236, the compromise hospital staffing legislation, and SB 5499, the nurse staffing compact, represent substantial strides towards resolving Washington's health care workforce challenges.

In recognition of the critical role nurses play in the delivery of kidney care, the Northwest Kidney Council joined a broad coalition engaged on SB 5236, and engaged directly in support of SB 5499. We are pleased that both have made it to Gov. Inslee’s desk.

SB 5236, the result of a collaboration between our partners at the Washington State Hospital Association and health care unions, aims to reinforce the existing hospital staffing laws while maintaining some control for providers to build in flexibility in staffing. SB 5236 introduces several modifications to enhance the efficacy of the nurse staffing committees and improve compliance with staffing requirements.

One of the primary provisions of SB 5236 is the expansion of staffing committees, broadening their scope and empowering them to better address the complexities of staffing needs. With a more comprehensive representation of stakeholders, these committees can leverage diverse perspectives to create well-rounded staffing plans that meet the demands of patients and health care providers alike.

Furthermore, the bill requires hospitals to meet their staffing plans at least 80 percent of the time. Failure to do so will trigger a corrective action plan overseen by the relevant state departments. The bill also includes a provision that extends meal and rest break protections to all acute care hospital employees engaged in direct patient care – an effort to address the mental and physical health needs of all providers.

In tandem with SB 5236, the Legislature also passed SB 5499, the nurse staffing compact. Read the NWKC’s testimony here. By joining the compact, Washington state can enhance access to qualified nurses and facilitate interstate mobility for nursing professionals. There are 39 other states that participate in the compact, which allows nurses with a multi-state license to practice in participating states, streamlining the process, and reducing bureaucratic barriers.

The passage of SB 5236 and SB 5499 represent a significant step forward in addressing Washington state's health care workforce challenges, and we are eager to continue working with our provider partners and elected officials to make further progress that benefits kidney patients.


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