Washington state lawmaker angers nurses after saying some 'probably play cards' in rural areas

Kristin Lam
Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh drew backlash after saying nurses in smaller, rural hospitals may spend a lot of time playing cards.

A Washington state lawmaker is facing backlash from nurses – including multiple online petitions, one calling for her resignation – after saying nurses in smaller, rural hospitals may spend much of their time playing cards.

Republican state Sen. Maureen Walsh made the comments last week during a debate on a bill proposing uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses, as well as further protections against mandatory overtime.

"By putting these types of mandates on a critical access hospital that literally serves a handful of individuals, I would submit to you those nurses probably do get breaks," Walsh said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day."

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About 525,000 people signed an online petition for Walsh to shadow a local nurse for a 12-hour shift. Another 5,000, as of Sunday evening, have called for Walsh to resign in another petition.

The hashtags #maureenwalsh and #nursesplaycards also trended on social media, drawing a comment from comedian Kathy Griffin, who said her mom worked in a hospital.

“Thank you of alerting me to a group that even I am not stupid enough to piss off. Ever,” Griffin tweeted.

The Washington State Nurses Association website crashed on Friday after too many people viewed a blog post describing Walsh's comments as disrespectful and patronizing.

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Walsh told the Tri-City Herald on Saturday she did not have malicious intentions. 

“I was tired,” she said. “I said something I wish I hadn’t.”

In this Jan. 9, 2017 file photo, Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, right, takes the oath of office on the opening day of the 2017 legislative session at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Sen. Walsh has angered nurses by commenting in a speech that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in rural hospitals.

The Walla Walla County lawmaker still opposes the bill, however, and supports an amendment that would exclude nurses at hospitals with fewer than 25 beds from uninterrupted breaks.

While the bill passed the state Senate with the amendment, the House passed it without the amendment. Lawmakers will have to reconcile the different versions before it can become law.

The state nursing association said recruiting nurses to rural hospitals is already challenging. Denying them uninterrupted breaks and imposing mandatory overtime would further complicate the hiring process, the association said.

Rest breaks also reduce fatigue, which can lead to medical errors, the association said.

The bill would require nurses and staff such as surgical technologists receive uninterrupted meal and rest periods, except under unforeseeable circumstances. If a 10-minute break is interrupted, the bill would require an additional 10-minute break. 

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Washington state lawmaker angers nurses after saying some 'probably play cards' in rural areas