Governor signs bill guaranteeing meal and rest breaks for nurses

OLYMPIA – After years of getting close, a key patient safety and worker fairness bill was finally signed into law today.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) sponsored SHB 1155, which provides for uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses and certain other health care employees, and prohibits the use of prescheduled on-call time to fill foreseeable staff shortages.

“This is a win for patients and a win for nurses who provide those patients with critical and often life-saving care,” said Riccelli. “I’m grateful to everyone who worked so hard to ensure we got this bill all the way through the legislature this year.”

After passing the House in early March, the bill was amended in the Senate in ways that would have significantly undermined its goal of ensuring all Washington health care workers have basic breaks and overtime protections.

The House refused to concur with the Senate’s amendments. The final compromise version allows for 12-hour shifts, keeps techs in the overtime protections, and includes all hospitals but with a two-year delay for critical access hospitals, sole community hospitals, and hospitals with under 25 beds.

“Patient care suffers when hospitals are short-staffed and nurses are not getting their proper breaks. Tired nurses can get burned out, which leads to mistakes, low morale and job dissatisfaction. It is a prescription that has helped fuel our current nursing shortage,” said Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), who chairs the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. “This bill can definitely help break the cycle and lead to better patient outcomes.”

“As a pediatric emergency room nurse, I know that health care professionals are routinely pushed to our physical and intellectual limits, causing extreme fatigue, reducing mental acuity and putting patient safety at risk,” said Lindsey Kirsch, RN, and member of the Washington State Nurses Association. “Today, I am so pleased to stand with the Governor as he signs SHB 1155 into law. This bill has much needed breaks and overtime protections that are good for nurses and meaningful for patient safety – it will allow nurses and health care professionals to be 100 percent focused on giving patients the highest quality care possible.”

“The passage of SHB 1155 is a victory for both patients and healthcare workers,” said Diane Belyea, a registered nurse at Valley Hospital in Spokane. “Nurses and healthcare workers will now be allowed to take our meal and rest breaks uninterrupted, with pragmatic exceptions like emergencies. Nurses work long hours, spending almost all of our time on our feet while making multiple decisions regarding our patients’ care. By allowing nurses and healthcare workers to take breaks uninterrupted, we can provide safer and better care for our patients. Thank you, Marcus Riccelli, who sponsored and fought for this bill, Governor Inslee for signing it into law, and all who voted for its passage.”

The measure takes effect on January 1, 2020.