Washington hospitals sued


The Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) has filed lawsuits against four additional Washington hospitals for failing to provide nurses with adequate rest breaks. Earlier this summer, they were successful in two similar suits: the Spokane County Superior Court ruled that Sacred Heart Medical Hospital violated the Minimum Wage Act by failing to pay nurses for missed rest breaks, and an arbitrator ruled that the University of Washington Medical Center is required to provide nurses will full, uninterrupted 15- minute breaks as provided for in the collective bargaining agreement.
Both decisions, the WSNA says, “conclude that a nurse’s rest break must be uninterrupted time away from work duties, not a series of small, intermittent breaks which consist of brief interruptions in work throughout the day.” The goal of the lawsuits “is to cause a fundamental shift in how hospitals in this state prioritize breaks and safety,” says WSNA president Julia Weinberg, RN. “By imposing a financial penalty for failing to provide uninterrupted breaks, we hope these lawsuits will ensure that hospitals make breaks a priority,” explains Christine Himmelsbach, MN, RN, assistant executive director of labor relations for WSNA.

The four hospitals currently targeted are:

  • Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup
  • Tacoma General Hospital
  • Evergreen Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue
  • Holy Family Hospital in Spokane

While the research confirms what nurses have known for years — few nurses get full breaks; long shifts + heavy responsibility + lack of breaks = fatigue and increased potential for mistakes — part of the blame may lie with nurses themselves. In an article for HealthLeaders Media, Rebecca Hendren argues that horizontal hostility, or bullying, may play a role.  “It manifests itself in a culture where nurses complain about having to watch someone’s patients while they take a quick break. Or gossiping about so-and-so being a ‘bad nurse’ because he leaves his patients to get lunch,” Hendren writes.

The solution, she says, must include subtle shifts within the culture of nursing. Nurses must be educated on the importance of breaks, and hospitals may need to work with nurses to dispel what she calls “the culture of martyrdom.” Innovative staffing programs, such as hiring part-time nurses to cover lunch breaks, may also be part of the solution.

What do you think? Do you feel pressure from fellow nurses to not take a full break? Or are you simply stretched too thin?

Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN
Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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