Story by Sue McFarlan
As a registered nurse, I have been pondering Wash. Sen. Maureen Walsh’s comment that nurses at critical access hospitals “probably play cards” at work. In context, she was debating on the Senate floor the need for a bill aimed at ensuring nurses get rest and meal breaks at work and protecting them from mandatory overtime.
She stated critical access hospitals (CAH), designated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are vulnerable financially and that mandating breaks would add costs that cannot be reconciled.
These small hospitals usually hold 25 beds or less and are vital to the communities they serve. While her concern about the viability of her small town hospital is valid, basic labor law standards and common sense should dictate that human beings require breaks for meals. This is a minimally acceptable standard, how healthcare organizations accomplish this is up to them.
Sen. Walsh went further to state that if nurses cannot find time to go to the bathroom, get a drink or a meal, perhaps they should work mandatory eight-hour shifts. This provoked thousands of phone calls to her office in protest. The majority of nurses calling supported 12-hour shifts many of whom cited want to work these shifts in order to have more days off for family. While there are debates among experts in the nursing community about which is better, eight or 12-hour shifts, it should not be a debate for our legislature.
Nursing has a high burnout rate, risk of workplace violence (verbal and physical) and is an overall difficult job, physically and emotionally. Still, many of us love nursing. As far as my opinion of Sen. Walsh, I think she misspoke and created her own media circus of angry tweets, memes and commentary. She, like many in high profile positions, did not think before she spoke and came across as ignorant and disrespectful. I have to admit, I read her comment and rolled my eyes – nurses are somewhat used to the disrespect.
Nursing’s evolution has paralleled the women’s movement in this country. We have gone from the handmaidens of physicians, merely performing “bedpan brigade” to highly skilled coordinators and providers of all levels of care. We are patient advocates, teachers, heavy weight lifters, communications experts and more. Anyone who thinks it is a noble profession obviously knows a nurse. Anyone who thinks it looks easy is deluded. We nurses are proud of where we have come from. We have a long way to go as a profession, but we’ve come a long way.
I’m not angry at Sen. Walsh. People misspeak and make mistakes. However, I must confess, I have laughed at the internet commentary and memes. It does my heart good to see nurses standing strong and making fun of the ridiculousness of this situation.
What I know is this: If the senator were in the hospital, regardless of what we think of her statements, we would not deny her high-quality care and respectful treatment. It’s in the nurses’ Code of Ethics to treat all patients fairly and compassionately. Is it practiced 100 percent of the time? Probably not, but the vast majority of nurses provide quality care on a daily basis to crabby and even abusive people. It’s part of the job we have committed to do.