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Burnout urgently needs to be addressed, Washington healthcare workers warn

A collection of worker unions announced the launch of the Washington Safe and Healthy Campaign.

Healthcare workers put out an urgent call for change as staffing shortages hit hospitals across Washington state.

A collection of worker unions announced the launch of the Washington Safe and Healthy Campaign, demanding lawmakers pass legislation to address the staffing shortage crisis.

They said it’s a problem that started long before the pandemic.

“This crisis preceded the pandemic, but throughout the pandemic has become that much worse,” said Diane Sosne, Registered Nurse and President of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

Exhausted, overworked, and ready to leave the profession is how healthcare workers explained their situation during a press conference about the staffing shortages in Washington hospitals.

“People are leaving because of the burnout and the stress ... what that begins to do is trickle down into the patient safety,” said Derek Roybal, healthcare worker with Providence Sacred Heart.

The Washington Safe and Healthy Campaign focuses on addressing the staffing crisis through legislation in three main ways: by putting safe staffing standards in place, enforcing existing overtime, meal and rest break laws, and investing in workforce development to recruit more workers.

“Calling us heroes is not enough, it was never enough. It is time for the hospital executives to step up for the frontline workers. We have sacrificed so much,” said Ademola Adayemo, nursing assistant at UW Medicine.

Rep. Mike Sells, chair of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, issued this statement: 

“It is no surprise to me that in areas where we most have put people at risk, like healthcare, we are seeing problems with maintaining staffing. Safety concerns for health care workers have been at issue for years, even before the current COVID crisis. The COVID event has just telescoped the problem and brought it much more clearly into focus. During this next session it is a priority to look at what we can do to make sure those workers have the assurances that safeguards are in place for their wellbeing and that of their families.” 

Rep. Michelle Caldier with the Health Care and Wellness Committee issued this statement:

“I am currently working on a bill to address the healthcare workforce crisis.  Our state had workforce problems long before the pandemic due to colleges not creating enough healthcare slots to meet the influx of people moving to our state and growing healthcare demands of our aging population.  Educating nurses and doctors is more expensive than educating other professions, and many colleges have recently closed or reduced their existing programs to make way for less costly students. My bill would prioritize healthcare slots in our capital budget, so the colleges who have included training healthcare professionals would receive taxpayer dollars first to build those programs.   I agree hospitals should have adequate staffing levels, but until we are training more people to enter the workforce, they cannot realistically accomplish the goals in the WA Safe & Healthy Plan.”

Rep. Liz Berry, Vice Chair of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee said:

“For years we've heard from healthcare workers about staffing shortages that have gone unaddressed in hospitals across the state, and during the pandemic it's become a full-blown crisis. I'm worried that this new poll we saw today reveals nearly half are considering quitting healthcare in the next few years. For 70 percent of those considering leaving, short staffing was one of their biggest reasons. The only way to solve this staffing crisis is to address the burnout and unmanageable conditions our healthcare workers are facing. For more than a year they've put their own health and safety at risk to take care of us, and it's time we step up for them.”

The legislative session begins January 10. Representatives with the Safe and Healthy Campaign said they are working with lawmakers to draft legislation.

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