Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh (R) is under fire after claiming nurses in small, rural hospitals “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”
Walsh made the remark Tuesday as the Washington state Senate considered SHB 1155, which would provide nurses with uninterrupted meal and rest breaks. Walsh argued for an amendment to the bill that would exclude small, rural hospitals from the requirement.
“I would submit to you that those nurses probably do get breaks,” Walsh said on the Senate floor. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”
Backlash quickly spread across the country after the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) railed against Walsh in a scathing blog post published Thursday.
“No, Senator, nurses are not sitting around playing cards,” wrote Mathew Keller, WSNA’s director of nursing practice and health policy. “They are taking care of your neighbors, your family, your community. ... With all due respect, Sen. Walsh: perhaps it’s time for you to put down the cards and pick up the literature.”
A change.org petition calling for Walsh to follow around a nurse at a local hospital for a full 12-hour shift garnered over 450,000 signatures by Sunday morning.
“I’m a nurse at a nursing home where at times I’ve had over 40 residents,” one petition supporter wrote. “I need Senator Walsh to come show me what I’m doing wrong so that I can get a break and possibly play cards with the rest of the nurses. Who will watch my residents while I’m gone?”
Walsh told the Kennewick, Washington-based Tri-City Herald on Saturday that her remark was not meant to be malicious and that she has “the greatest respect” for nurses. She noted that her mother was a registered nurse for many years.
The lawmaker, whose district is based in Walla Walla County, said she regrets making her comment, but stands by her opposition to SHB 1155.
“I was tired,” Walsh said. “I said something I wish I hadn’t.”
Both the amendment excluding small, rural hospitals from the uninterrupted breaks requirement and another amendment Walsh proposed to limit the numbers of hours nurses can work in a 24-hour period passed on Tuesday. The Senate then approved the overall bill.
WSNA opposes both of the amendments. “This is unworkable for most hospitals and unfair to nurses,” the group said in a statement.
The state House passed SHB 1155 on March 6. Legislators must now reconcile the two versions of the bill before a final version can be sent to Gov. Jay Inslee (D) for his consideration.