We need more nurses, not more regulations


At a recent press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee was asked several questions about the state’s nursing shortage, a problem that existed long before the COVID-19 era.

Reporters were stabbing around at various solutions being proposed in the Legislature. Should we regulate hospital working arrangements? Should we limit what contract nurses are paid? How does the government protect nurses from burnout? Gov. Inslee summed up the concerns well: “The best solution is to produce more nurses that are available for our hospitals.”  

He’s right. And there is a legislative opportunity right now to create a promising pipeline. 

Senate Bill 5892 passed in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Monday, with no apparent opposition. The bill, according to the committee, would “establish pilot projects to address the nursing workforce shortage and promote nursing careers in rural hospitals by using high school student certified nursing assistant (CNA) programs.”  

This pilot program to supply hospitals with bodies they need, while at the same time jump-starting promising careers, is the kind of innovative solution the state needs more of, rather than added regulation that makes it hard to supply health care to Washingtonians. 

Another bill under consideration would do just that, implementing standard top-down rules in an effort to force change. 

I call HB 1868 the “you can’t get blood out of a turnip” bill. It would establish minimum staffing ratios for hospitals, impose more micro-managing regulations on overtime, meals and rest breaks, and impose fresh penalties for non-compliance. 

Hospital caregivers and staff have had a heck of a job in the time of COVID, earning every one of the “hero” signs that have been pointed their way. All the regulations in the world, however, won’t supply the nurses hospitals need to solve the shortage or take away the stress of pandemic times. 

“We are not in the place we want to be with staffing in hospitals,” said Cassie Sauer, chief executive of the Washington State Hospital Association, as she testified in a recent House committee meeting. But hospitals aren’t likely to meet minimum staffing levels if there aren’t enough nurses out there to be hired, she explained. The whole nation is experiencing a shortage of nurses. 

As a recent  Everett Herald editorial noted, “California, others testified during the hearing, is the only state that has such staffing requirements; and it is seeing the same shortages of nursing staff as other states; with no better outcomes for patients.” 

In addition to not  solving the nursing shortage, HB 1868 could have hospitals cutting services for patients to avoid fines and other punishments. They’ll have to decrease the number of patients if they’re not able to increase the number of nurses.  

To help hospital workers, and patients, the Legislature should focus on easing and creating workforce pipelines, so we can “produce more nurses that are available for our hospitals."  

Doing that also includes reconsideration of strict vaccine mandates on health care workers, even those who have had COVID-19. Government mandates have added to the nursing shortage and are keeping some qualified nurses out of work. And we know that both unvaccinated and vaccinated people can contract and spread the virus and that natural immunity plays a role in protection.  

State lawmakers need to resist bills that increase regulation and approve those that reduce barriers and home-grow more providers for Washington hospitals. 

As the governor said in his Jan. 27 press conference, “That’s the solution to this problem: Give more people an opportunity to get these professional [nursing] skills. And we oughta do that as fast as humanly possible.” 


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