Nursing ratio bill stopped in state senate

OLYMPIA — A statewide nursing staffing mandate that passed the House was blocked last week by a Senate committee, likely condemning the legislation as the 60-day legislative session heads into a conclusion on Thursday with money.

House Bill 1868, which divided the three 24th District legislators, was vigorously opposed by the Washington State Hospital Association and the three public hospitals on the northern Olympic Peninsula, in Port Angeles, Forks, and Port Townsend.

House members approved Staffing Ratio Bill 55-43 on Feb. 13. Capital Budget Committee Chairman Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend voted for the measure and State Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles opposed it after initially supporting the bill.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee took no action on Monday, failing to forward it for a floor vote. The 24-person panel, which includes the bill’s opponent, Senator Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, briefly considered it during a day-long executive session of 77 bills under consideration, said Van De Wege.

The public is excluded from the deliberations.

Chapman said he could be exempt from the deadline for bills if designated as a “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB) measure. The additional step allowed if the budget relies on the bill for the spending plan to be complete (, “Guide to Lawmaking”).

The possibility did not sit well with Forks Community Hospital CEO Heidi Anderson, who testified before Ways and Means against the measure.

“If so, it won’t be good,” she said in an email Friday.

Van De Wege has said it is highly unlikely that he will stand for a floor vote and is indeed dead.

“Republicans were locked in against that,” Van De Wege said Thursday.

Van De Wege said on Thursday that issues addressed in the failed nursing ratio bill, such as restricting mandatory overtime, were best addressed by hospitals working with unions. He and hospital officials said the legislation would have hurt rural areas.

“The best thing we can do is have more nurses,” he said.

“They are often overworked, and during COVID they have been abused and faced tremendous health risks,” he said in an email. “There is no doubt that they deserve relief.”

Van De Wege said Thursday afternoon that his attention was focused on Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline for bills.

“We are 24 hours away from a huge cut,” he said wearily then, adding that he felt Ways and Means had taken action on the staffing ratio measure there. one year old.

Around 4 p.m. Friday, Senate Bill 5919, of which Van De Wege was the lead sponsor and in favor of which Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith testified, passed the House 86-12, the sending to Governor Jay Inslee for his signature.

It refines police reform measures approved in 2021 on the “due diligence” standard for determining when and whether to use physical force and when peace officers can initiate a vehicle chase.

Van De Wege said the Legislature is trying to address staffing shortages with SB 5892, a pilot high school nursing program to train certified nursing assistants, approved 49-0 by the Senate . The Peninsula College has a nursing program.

The policy bill for SB 5892 didn’t pass the House before the deadline but can still be funded in the budget, Chapman said Saturday.

“We will find out on Monday or Tuesday,” he said.

Jennifer Burkhardt, legal counsel and director of human resources at the Olympic Medical Center, said SB 5892 is in line with the partnerships the WTO has fostered to address the nursing shortage.

“There is a broader effort that needs to happen and a lot more action that we can take both at the WTO and with our partners at the community and state level,” she said. .

“We always seek to resolve issues in conjunction with the union and to that extent we are in negotiations and a lot of work is underway. We won’t be able to fully resolve these issues until we have enough staff.

OMC spokesman Ryan Hueter said the OMC is recruiting to fill 79 RN vacancies and is offering a $10,000 incentive to applicants. There were 72 openings as of January 21 out of a staff of 375 RN positions.

“Healthcare systems across the country are facing a shortage of skilled workers,” he said in an email.

A shortage of nurses before the pandemic was exacerbated by early retirements, he said.

Tharinger said small, unique community hospitals such as those on the northern Olympic Peninsula would have had four years to implement nurse-patient ratios. HB 1868 required the establishment of hospital staffing committees and asked the Department of Labor and Industries to regulate them and staffing standards.

“There is a shortage of nurses, but I think there is some credence to the argument that nurses are leaving hospitals due to overworked hours, being on call and having too many few people to work,” Tharinger said.

“They need to make an effort to make staffing ratios and their demand for staff more compatible with nurses. I want people to start paying attention to this and work a little harder to try and fix this problem,” he said.

“You talk to nurses, and they spend four years in a program and do an internship, and they say it’s a tough environment to work in,” he said. “They feel taken advantage of.”

The Washington State Hospital Association “has put together a full press” to kill Bill, Tharinger added.

Beth Zborowski, spokesperson for the WSHA, said on Friday the group had spent between $25,000 and $35,000 on newspaper, radio and online advertising on the Olympic Peninsula demanding the defeat of the legislation.

She said her adoption would have resulted in a loss of medical services due to the shortage of nurses.

Anderson said in a text message Friday that the Obstetrics Department at Forks Community Hospital would have closed if HB 1868 had been adopted. After-hours surgery would have been eliminated due to custody restrictions, she said.

Zborowski said the hospitals are committed to fulfilling the promise of HB 1155, approved in 2019, which could not be fully implemented due to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. It imposes meal and rest periods and prohibits compulsory overtime.

Exceptions include “where the employer has made reasonable efforts to obtain personnel,” according to the bill’s report (

HB 1868 added the provision that such reasonable efforts cannot include compulsory overtime used to fill vacancies resulting from chronic staff shortages.

Chapman said budget negotiations between the House and Senate on their respective supplementary, capital and transportation budgets will be finalized by the middle of the week.

Chapman said lawmakers are also considering the $16 billion Move Ahead Washington transportation infrastructure package proposed by the Democratic Party, of which Chapman, Van De Wege and Tharinger are members.

Tharinger, a six-term lawmaker, said the supplementary budget was the largest he had seen and was more like a two-year spending plan.

“The revenue stream has been strong and robust into state coffers,” he said, attributing the stream in part to federal stimulus funds.

An additional capital budget of approximately $1 billion will include federal funding under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act for improvements to drinking water, storm water, sewer and culverts, Tharinger said. It will also include bond funds, federal stimulus funds and transfers from the state operating budget.


Lead writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

Sallie R. Loera