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Walsh apologizes to nurses for “card-playing” comment

UPDATED: Thu., April 25, 2019

OLYMPIA – Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, apologizes to nurses for suggesting that they “play cards a good amount of the day” during a debate over whether smaller hospitals should be subject to certain workplace break mandates. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, apologizes to nurses for suggesting that they “play cards a good amount of the day” during a debate over whether smaller hospitals should be subject to certain workplace break mandates. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

Sometimes when you try to make a point, you wind up being the one getting skewered.

That was the position Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, found herself in for several days, after defending an amendment to exempt some smaller hospitals certain break and overtime requirements for nurses and other medical staff.

The mandates weren’t needed because the nurses probably get breaks, she said during the debate. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

A video of that speech posted on Facebook and elsewhere went viral, and set off a firestorm of protest from nurses, some of whom sent individual playing cards or decks of cards to Walsh. Other critics suggested she shadow a nurse on a 12-hour shift to see how much time they spend playing cards.

On Tuesday, Walsh took to the floor of the Senate to apologize to all nurses and other medical staff.

“I really wish I could take these words back, more than anything,” she said, noting her mother was a registered nurse. “I have nothing but respect for the work they do and the people they care for.”

She said she has received more than 30,000 calls, letters and emails. Some comments online have been “very hateful.”

Walsh said she was tired from the long days of legislative business and was trying to make the point last week that small hospitals should be able to work out those conditions internally, between management and staff, without the state telling them what to do. She also didn’t expect the amendment to pass.

But it did, along with some other changes.

Because this is a House bill, the amended version went back to that chamber, which refused to agree to the changes, sending it back to the Senate, which agreed Tuesday to form a committee to work out the differences. It was during that decision that Walsh rose to apologize to nurses and other medical professionals.

But not to “political professionals” who she said were using her comments in the fight over the issue.

“We are destroying a good and solid political process,” she said.

In a news release, Walsh also said she “would be happy to accept” an invitation to shadow a nurse if she gets one.

Nurses and medical technicians from around the state are planning a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday morning, with as many as 300 expected to attend a demonstration then meet with lawmakers with a request to strip that amendment and some other changes out of the bill. A spokeswoman for the campaign said she didn’t expect any of the protesters to be dissuaded from attending the event by Walsh’s apology.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the exact quote from Sen. Walsh about playing cards.

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