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Aftermath of Nurse Outrage Over Lawmaker’s Playing Cards Comments


Aftermath of Nurse Outrage Over Lawmaker’s Playing Cards Comment

By Debra Wood, RN, Contributor

When Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh (R) declared on the Senate Floor that nurses “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day,” nurses across the country expressed outrage.

“That’s an insult and absolutely disrespectful,” said Cathy Kennedy, RN, secretary of the California Nurses Association and vice president of National Nurses United, who added Walsh’s comment sounds like “a corporate line.” Kennedy said that anything that negatively affects profits results in comments such as this one.

Kennedy works in the intensive care nursery in California, a state that already requires uninterrupted breaks and patient-to-nurse ratios. Employers have to pay a penalty if the nurse does not receive a break. 

“We believe patients are no different in California or Washington State or Mississippi,” Kennedy said. Breaks “should be a given. For her to make that comment is uncalled for.”

Walsh appears to lack a basic understanding about what nurses do everyday, all day.

“Registered nurses work for patients,” Kennedy said. “We sacrifice so much.”

On the Senate floor

Walsh made the statement while arguing against House Bill 1155, which would require nurses receive uninterrupted rest and meal breaks and eliminate mandatory overtime for any employee of a health care facility. Walsh was trying to make a case for exempting critical access hospitals from the law. 

Then she decided to try to amend the bill, to require nurses work eight-hour shifts, saying nurses who are tired and wanting 12-hour shifts are “talking out of both sides of their mouth.” Her eight-hour shift amendment failed, but the original bill passed both chambers and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee (D). It takes effect January 1, 2020, and makes no exceptions for critical access hospitals. 

The aftermath

More than 861,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org, created by Juliana Bindas, RN, BSN, in Chicago, asking the senator to shadow a nurse for a 12-hour shift. Those signing the petition have called the senator an idiot, ignorant and uninformed. 

Although the senator responded, in a written statement, saying she would accept the offer to shadow a nurse, her office did not respond to multiple requests as to whether she actually has shadowed a nurse or not. 

Bindas, a pediatric nurse, has decided to take the petition a step further and start an organization to support changes to current legislation. She hopes to find nurses in every state. 

Social media lit up with comments from nurses and physicians on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The American Nurses Association wrote on Twitter “It’s disappointing that an elected official is so uninformed about #nurses, the nation’s most trusted profession.” And then urged nurses to educate others about what they do. However, the organization referred to the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) for comment.

Ruth Schubert, at WSNA, declined to comment. However, she said that “the general public does not have a great understanding of what nurses do and the responsibilities they have.”

Mathew Keller, JD, BSN, RN, director of Nursing Practice and Health Policy at WSNA, wrote a blog about Walsh’s statement. He called her cards comment “perhaps one of the most demeaning statements on the nursing profession since Joy Behar’s 2015 “doctor’s stethoscope” comments on The View.”

Nurses began calling, emailing and mailing the senator decks of playing cards. Her website states she received about 1,700 decks and will give them to “nursing homes and veterans’ and senior centers.”  

Walsh later apologized stating in a written release “I want to offer my heartfelt apologies to those I offended with my comments on the Senate floor last Tuesday. I was tired, and in the heat of argument on the Senate floor, I said some things about nurses that were taken out of context – but still they crossed the line.”

Get involved

Keller suggested nurses inform their legislators about the work they do and the issue of requiring breaks and eliminating mandatory overtime. he also suggested they contribute money to the organization’s political action committee.

Nurses across the United States should unionize, Kennedy said. 

“That is the only way change can happen,” Kennedy added. “It takes organizing. When you are a collective voice, you can make change. It’s possible.”

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