House passes bill guaranteeing meal and rest breaks for nurses

OLYMPIA – A patient safety and worker fairness measure that guarantees meal and rest breaks for nurses and certain other health care employees passed the state House today. Sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, it provides for uninterrupted meal and rest breaks, and prohibits the use of prescheduled on-call time to fill foreseeable staff shortages.

“Nursing is one of the most trusted professions, but when health care workers experience fatigue and burnout, patient safety is put at risk. That’s something you shouldn’t have to worry about when you or your loved is admitted to a hospital,” Riccelli said.

In a speech on the House floor, Riccelli recounted a recent trip to the emergency room with his young son, and how grateful he was for the excellent care provided by hospital staff.

Riccelli’s bill, HB 1155, addresses an ongoing issue for frontline nursing staff in hospitals, many of whom work shifts of over 12 hours without uninterrupted breaks. While the issue is often raised in collective bargaining, employers don’t always comply with the agreements. One nurse’s association had to file a lawsuit in order to be able to take breaks.

“As an emergency room nurse, having fifteen minute breaks allows me to recharge and better care for my community. Guaranteed staffed breaks and the elimination of intermittent breaks will lessen burnout and allow nurses to combat fatigue,” said Shawn Reed, an RN in Spokane Valley Hospital’s Emergency Department. “This is one step the state can take to ensure quality patient care in our communities. Thank you to the House and Rep. Riccelli for making patients and healthcare workers a priority.”

This is not the first time Riccelli has sponsored a bill putting guaranteed breaks for health care workers into statute. In the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, he sponsored a similar bill that passed the House on a bipartisan basis both times, only to stall in the Senate. He is optimistic about the bill making it all the way to the governor’s desk this year.

“Nursing is a high-intensity profession. By prohibiting the use of break time to supplement staffing shortages, we’re keeping both health care employees and patients safe,” Riccelli said.

HB 1155 now heads to the Senate for consideration.