Newly totaled data from 2021 shows Washington healthcare workers filed a record number of workplace safety complaint forms, an increase touted by healthcare worker unions as reason for safe-staffing standards legislation.
Members of UFCW 21, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and the Washington State Nurses Association filed 8,649 safety complaint forms in 2021 – 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 the unions are claiming they 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. “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.”
Morale polls among healthcare workers in the state are suggesting widespread burnout amid the stresses of the pandemic, and the unions are warning of a dangerous exodus of nurses and other workers on the horizon.
In a December 2021 poll of 1,200 healthcare workers, 49 percent 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.”
This week, legislators in Olympia filed bipartisan bills to create statewide safe staffing standards including SB 5751 and its companion bill HB 1868. UFCW 21, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and the Washington State Nurses Association are supporting this legislation as a necessary way to improve morale and working conditions for the healthcare workforce.
“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. “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.”