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3 Card-Playing Tips for Nurses – An Examination of the Sen. Maureen Walsh Controversy

The insult to nurses was outrageous. Articulate defenses flowed from social media, medical satire and open-letter academic research. “Keep Calm and Nurse On” decks of cards sold out within days. At least three petitions encouraged the outraged to lambaste Senator Walsh.

There’s one problem. Senator Walsh may not be the one who needs to shadow a nurse for 12 hours.  Healthcare politics are almost never what they seem at first glance.

Tip #1. For politicians, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Senator Maureen Walsh is unlikely to be clueless or a nurse-hater. Art major, restaurant owner/operator, daughter of a nurse, she received campaign contributions from labor unions, major healthcare industries, and health professionals. She praised her hospital care post-MI, and sits on health-related private sector and legislative committees.

Walsh, who made news worldwide when she voted for civil unions, knows the value of publicity in winning elections and wielding political clout.

Tip #2. Always read the bill yourself before reacting.

Critical Access Hospitals serve rural areas and have fewer than 26 inpatient beds. Washington hospitals range from tiny Peace Island Hospital, a Catholic facility (10 inpatients) to Western State Hospital (806 psychiatric beds). These two places are not the same for nurses. Their cultures, locations, facilities, and patients are just about as different as can possibly exist within one state. 110+ other WA hospitals also display incredible diversity of hospital specialties and sizes.

Yet, there are calls for across-the-board breaks to “include ALL hospitals and ALL nursing and technical staff!”

Current WA law for mandatory nurse breaks has pages of exemptions that allow for varying settings and circumstances. Senator Walsh’s amendment for one more exemption opposed the standardization paradigm.

Her amendment could arguably serve nurses better. Regulation of nurse time does not necessarily protect nurses, who are empowered professionals in their own right. Sometimes, it’s a barrier to what they want to do for patients.  Only nurses can know just how a piece of legislation will impact their work.

Tip #3. Unions are political players, too.

With Janus v. AFSCME in 2018, the Supreme Court ended the public-sector union practice of charging non-members. This threatened union and Democratic Party strength, especially in non-Right to Work states like Washington.

Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) needed an issue to build membership before the 2020 elections.

It got one.

Politically, Senator Walsh’s floor speech handed unions a royal flush: a Republican legislator’s memorable sound bite on video, that ostensibly offended a popular union constituency while opposing the union’s policy agenda. The union gets to lead the public defense and bask in free nationwide publicity (including press quotes). Marketing the saga of villainous threat and heroic union rescue will rally more dues-paying members and improve its political standing with the party. There is literally no down side.

Except it’s a sham. The Walsh Amendment survived, pending only the governor’s signature. Critical access hospitals are exempt from nurse break mandates… until after the 2020 elections.

A win-win political compromise.  The union holds public bragging rights for the win, helping nurses.  The senator actually wins short-term on the amendment, gets guaranteed name recognition for her 2022 campaign, and will spend time with nurses (aka voters and the Ace of political poker). No downside here, either.

Bottom line: Only you can decide whether a particular politician, party, bill, or union speaks for you. These tips can help you cut through the doublespeak.

Sources:

Washington Right to Work Laws, FindLaw,
https://statelaws.findlaw.com/washington-law/washington-right-to-work-laws.html. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Facts about Critical Access Hospital Accreditation, The Joint Commission, Dec. 11, 2018.
https://www.jointcommission.org/facts_about_critical_access_hospital_accreditation/. Accessed April 22, 2019.

A lawmaker said some nurses ‘play cards’ at work. After backlash, she agrees to shadow a nurse for 12 hours, by Ryan W. Miller, April 23, 2019, USA Today.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/04/23/maureen-walsh-apologizes-shadow-nurse-over-playing-cards-remark/3547620002/. Accessed April 26, 2019.

The Supreme Court just dealt unions a big blow in Janus. Here’s what you need to know about the political fallout. By James Feigenbaum and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, The Washington Post, June 27, 2018.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/06/27/the-supreme-court-just-dealt-unions-a-big-blow-in-janus-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-political-fallout/?utm_term=.b4475914a246 Accessed April 22, 2019.

Washington Legislature, HB 1155.
Original Bill:
https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1155&Year=2019&Initiative=false&fbclid=IwAR23AmNat_aXBysRXe8y70JpJmG7h6FSo-Ic32OSBG5KWmYL8Gf9M0ejxn4. Accessed April 22, 2019.
Final Bill, pp 3-5:
http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/1155-S.PL.pdf. Accessed April 25, 2019.

Washington State Nurses Association,
https://cdn.wsna.org/post/index-2.html?p=news/2019/senator-states-that-nurses-probably-play-cards-for-a-considerable-amount-of-the-day-in-amending-rest-breaks-bill. Accessed April 22, 2019.

VoteSmart Bio and Campaign Finance, Maureen Walsh.
https://votesmart.org/candidate/campaign-finance/51330/maureen-walsh#.XL3ttutKgUE. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Wiki Overview of Washington Hospitals. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hospitals_in_Washington_(state). Accessed April 22, 2019.

Wiki Overview Critical Access Hospitals
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_Access_Hospital. Accessed April 22, 2019.