OLYMPIA — A Walla Walla County lawmaker has angered nurses and spawned a flurry of viral hashtags and memes on social media by saying that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in small, rural hospitals.
Republican State Sen. Maureen Walsh made the comments this week while debating a Senate bill that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses. The bill would also provide mandatory overtime protections for nurses.
Walsh wants an amendment that would exclude hospitals with fewer than 25 beds from the breaks, The Olympian reported on Friday.
Small, rural hospitals “that literally serve a handful of individuals” will have trouble staying open and nurses in those settings “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day,” the newspaper quoted Walsh as saying.
A Washington State Nurses Association blog about the comments drew so many readers Friday that the site crashed. The group called the comment disrespectful and patronizing.
The hashtags #maureenwalsh and #nursesplaycards went viral on social media. Comedian Kathy Griffin joined the fray Friday, tweeting that her mother worked in a hospital.
“Thank you of alerting me to a group that even I am not stupid enough to piss off. Ever,” Griffin tweeted.
The Tri-City Herald reported that Walsh said she did not intend the comments as malicious. “I was tired. I said something I wish I hadn’t.”
Recruiting nurses to rural facilities already is difficult and exempting them from laws requiring uninterrupted breaks and subjecting them to mandatory overtime would make recruiting more difficult, the Washington State Nurses Association said.
The bill passed the state Senate with the amendment excluding small hospitals. It had previously passed the House without the amendment.
The different House and Senate versions of the bill will have to be reconciled before being signed into law.
The bill specifically requires that nurses and some other staff, such as surgical technologists and diagnostic radiologic technologists, be provided uninterrupted meal and rest periods, except when there is an unforeseeable circumstance.
If a rest break is interrupted before 10 complete minutes, an additional 10-minute break is required. It also would prohibit health care facilities from using what the nurses association considers a legal loophole to require overtime.
The association said it has tried to address the issues of skipped breaks and mandatory overtime with individual contract bargaining and litigation, but the problem remains pervasive.
Rest breaks are proven to address fatigue, which can lead to medical errors, it said.