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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pair of bills aiming to reduce nursing shortages in Washington pass Legislature on Thursday

The Washington Capitol building.   (Rachel La Corte)

OLYMPIA – Hospitals will have to follow staffing standards, and Washington nurses will be able to practice in other states if two bills that passed the Legislature on Thursday are signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.

A bill that will require hospitals to adopt staffing standards, including staff-patient ratios, and follow them 80% of the time passed the state House of Representatives 92-6. Another bill that would allow Washington to enter into a multistate nurse licensure compact and allow nurses to get licenses that would be accepted in multiple states passed 94-4.

Supporters say both bills will help ease staffing constraints at hospitals across the state and help prevent burnout in nurses.

“It’s not enough to just thank them for the work they are doing,” Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said on the House floor Thursday. “We have to make sure that they have safe standards for staffing.”

Nurse unions had pushed for staff-patient ratios for years, but hospital officials had pushed back on the ratios because they said they didn’t have enough staff .

The bill that passed the House on Thursday reflected a compromise. It doesn’t set specific ratios in state law, but it does require hospitals to create staffing plans and follow them, something nurse unions said isn’t happening.

When the compromise was reached last month, representatives of nurse unions said the deal makes the staffing plans more enforceable, which will make hospitals a more sustainable place to work. The Washington State Hospital Association said the final version left control of staffing up to individual hospitals.

If signed by Inslee, the bill would require hospitals to create a staffing plan and abide by it 80% of the time, or they’d face fines.

The staffing plans must be submitted to the Department of Health by 2025. Beginning in 2027, hospitals could face penalties up to $10,000 for every 30 days that they fail to submit a staffing plan, committee charter or corrective action plan. If they don’t follow the corrective action plan they’ve created, they could face fines of $50,000 for every 30 days out of compliance.

Rural hospitals and hospitals with fewer than 25 beds would not have to follow the reporting requirements.

Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick, said the bill allows for local decision-making in that individual hospitals can decide their own staffing plan and that it provides more enforcement when they are not meeting them.

“The bill does allow nurses to have a bigger seat at the table when it comes to staffing committees,” Connors said.

The licensure bill that passed Thursday would allow Washington to enter into a 39-state compact to let nurses who receive licenses in other states practice in Washington using the same license.

Hospitals say the compact could address the significant workforce shortages they have faced for years. Nurse unions had some concerns the bill could overshadow working conditions that still need to be addressed, such as through the safe-staffing model.

Rep. Mike Volz, R-Spokane, said the license bill will help the health care industry, nurses and, most importantly, patients in Washington.

“Both bills together is a great package for Washington state, the citizens and the nurses and the hospitals,” he said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.