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New Annual Totals Paired with Recent Polls Inform Urgency for Safe Staffing Standard Legislation

SEATTLE – Newly totaled data from 2021 show Washington healthcare workers filed a record number of workplace safety complaint forms, adding new context to the increasingly disastrous staffing crisis in Washington hospitals.

Members of UFCW 21, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and the Washington State Nurses Association filed 8,649 safety complaint forms in 2021 – for context, the total number of forms submitted between workers of all three unions in 2019 was 2,865. These forms detail staffing complaints and violations, inadequate equipment, and patient and staff safety concerns, and add to the urgency for passing safe staffing standards in Olympia this session.

“We would welcome hospital executives to support the kind of workforce development investments they’ve talked about to increase the number of new healthcare workers we’re training to enter the field,” said Jane Hopkins, RN, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. “But our state’s healthcare workers have been clear – people are quitting because of dangerous staffing practices that have gone ignored for far too long. There’s no use in increasing our workforce if they’re just going to burn out within a year. We need to recruit more healthcare workers to the bedside, but we also need to make sure they can do their jobs safely.”

Healthcare workers are at their breaking points, and multiple polls suggest a dangerous exodus of nurses and other workers on the horizon:

In a December 2021 poll of 1,200 healthcare workers, half (49%) said they were likely to quit in the next few years. Among those likely to quit, 71% said short-staffing was one of the biggest reasons.

In a recent study from the University of Washington, 60% of nurses interviewed said burnout made them less likely to remain in healthcare in the long term. Additionally, as reported in the Puget Sound Business Journal, “61% of healthcare workers didn’t feel their employer cared about them, and 65% said administrators tuned out suggestions for care made by bedside staff.”

There is a solution: this week legislators in Olympia filed bipartisan bills to create statewide safe staffing standards (SB 5751/HB 1868) and other critical safety protections healthcare workers have asked for. Leading national nursing researchers like Dr. Linda Aiken, founding director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, have said safe staffing standards are the solution to hospital burnout and turnover, medical errors, and poor patient satisfaction.

The Washington State Hospital Association, however, has indicated opposition to these widely supported solutions and ignored peer-reviewed research findings.

“It’s one thing to acknowledge that your hospitals are understaffed, but it’s another thing to accept responsibility and acknowledge the solutions,” said David Keepnews, Executive Director of the Washington State Nurses Association. “Healthcare workers – the actual people at the bedside protecting us every day for the last two years – have said that short-staffing and dangerously high patient loads are the biggest reasons for burnout, bad retention and poor recruitment. The bipartisan-sponsored safe staffing standards that legislators have put forward are the solutions our state’s healthcare workers are asking for.”

“For the last two years we’ve heard from healthcare workers how unsafe, understaffed and unsupported they feel in our hospitals,” said Faye Guenther, president of UFCW 21. “Looking through the safety forms submitted last year validates their experiences, and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg as workers are too overworked in most cases to even file complaints that go unaddressed.. Across Washington, hospital executives have been able to afford tens of millions of dollars in bonuses during the pandemic but somehow can’t find the resources to fully staff their departments. Healthcare workers and patients are paying the price.”


About WA Safe + Healthy
The WA Safe + Healthy campaign is a coalition of healthcare workers and patients calling on Washington legislators to pass safe staffing standards for the health and safety of both workers and patients. Collectively, the Washington State Nurses Association, UFCW 21 and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW represent more than 71,000 healthcare workers in the state of Washington. Learn more at wasafeandhealthy.com.

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