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Washington Passes Important Health Care Bill; Will Improve Working Conditions for Hospital Caregivers and Promote Patient Safety

According to reporting from The Stand, legislators in both the Washington State Senate and the Washington House of Representatives have passed an important bill that will improve conditions for hospital caregivers and promote patient safety. Officially known as SHB 1155, the legislation codifies meal breaks, rest breaks, and overtime benefits for qualified health care workers.

With a 32-16 margin in the Senate and a 70-24 margin in the House, the rest break bill received substantial support from state lawmakers and signed by Washington Governor Jay Inslee on May 8, 2019. Following the passage of the bill, Governor Inslee publicly showed his support for the law in a joint appearance with members of the Washington State Nurses Association.

What is in the Bill?

SHB 1155 provides uninterrupted meal breaks and rest breaks for certain health care workers, including registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Also, the law includes new regulations that prohibit mandatory overtime and new requirements related to pre-scheduled ‘on call’ time.

Currently, many nurses and other hospital caregivers are unable to take rest breaks and meal time without being interrupted by relatively minor issues. This bill will help prevent that, though the final version of the law does include an exception for emergency situations. As Intensive Care Unit Nurse Sarah Rice explained to The Spokesman-Review, working conditions for nurses are such that she felt as though she “didn’t have the tools necessary to give my all to my patients.”

It should be noted that the ‘clean’ version of the bill passed in both the House and the Senate. This is important — in recent weeks, some legislators who were hostile to a reform package tried to attach some harmful amendments in an effort to derail the vote. In the end, the overly restrictive eight-hour shift limit and the broad exemptions for rural hospitals were eliminated from the final version of the bill.

Most elements of Washington’s new health care worker rest break bill are set to go into effect on January 1st, 2020. Hospitals and other facilities covered by the bill will have several months to update and implement new staffing policies that are in compliance with state regulations.

The Law Promotes Patient Safety

SHB 1155 is about more than providing better conditions for hardworking health care employees; although that is incredibly important, the law will also help to promote greater patient safety. Ensuring that nurses and other caregivers get sufficient rest breaks will reduce the risk of errors and mistakes.

Every patient deserves to be treated by health care workers who are well-rested. Unfortunately, medical mistakes remain a serious problem in the health care industry. According to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, as many as 400,000 Americans die every year as a result of medical mistakes or hospital errors.

Health Care Workers Also Face Considerable Injury Risk

Nurses and other hospital workers face considerable risks on the job. In fact, nursing has become one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) found that hospital workers are injured at a rate that is more than twice the national average.

While job safety has improved considerably in the United States in the last three decades, little improvement has occurred within the healthcare industry. The rate of workplace injuries in hospitals is about the same as it was in 1989. For comparison, on-the-job injuries in the construction industry and the manufacturing industry have fallen by nearly 50 percent over the same period — both industries are now ‘safer’ than working in a hospital.

HB 1155 will help to make the workplace safer for nurses and other front line caregivers. By ensuring that these health care workers receive adequate rest breaks will reduce the overall risk of mistakes and accidents. These new regulations are in the best interests of both healthcare workers and patients.

We Support Patient Safety and Worker Safety in Washington

At The Walthew Law Firm, we are strong advocates for patient safety and worker safety. Our law firm has provided compassionate, effective representation to clients in Washington for more than nine decades. If you need legal guidance, we are here to help. To set up a free, fully confidential consultation with one of our attorneys, please contact us today.

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