Hospitals would be required to provide nurses with uninterrupted meal and rest breaks, under a bill narrowly passed Monday in the state House.
Democrats say breaks are important for nurses to provide quality care. Republicans say that bill is a mandate and unfairly burdens health care institutions.
House Bill 1732 would require breaks for nurses in most cases and expands state law against mandatory overtime to include more healthcare employees.
Meal and rest breaks could be interrupted, the bill says, “where there is an unforeseeable emergent circumstance or a clinical circumstance that may lead to patient harm without the employee’s specific skill or expertise.”
Rep. Chris Reykdal, Tumwater Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, says a nurse’s job is life or death.
“When they’re not rested and they don’t have meals, errors occur,” he said.
But Republicans say hospitals – not the government – are responsible for ensuring mistakes don’t happen.
“Hospitals don’t want to provide poor care, because they’re going to have to pay for it,” Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said. “This would put an undue restriction on those hospitals.”
Rep. Mike Sells, who says his son was in the emergency room overnight Sunday for surgery on a blood clot, said meal and rest breaks would improve the quality of care provided by nurses.
“When we have nurses come to us over and over and over again, who can’t get a meal or rest break, you wonder what kind of care your family members will have,” the Everett Democrat said.
Republicans said the cost is too high.
“This would impose a significant burden on health care entities who would have to hire staff to cover those rest breaks,” Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, said.
The bill passed 52-46. It now heads to the Republican-majority state Senate.