GOP lawmakers advocate for bills to supplement Washington’s hospital staffing shortages


Shane Ersland


With the Washington legislative session in its seventh week, GOP lawmakers discussed some of the bills they have their eyes on during a media session on Tuesday.


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Senate Minority Leader John Braun (R-Centralia) said one of the top health-related concerns he has is the state’s hospital staffing shortages.

“The most worrisome thing is, especially for our rural hospitals, is that they go out of business because they can’t afford the current cost of staffing,” Braun said. “There’s a lot of bills out there talking about our shortage of nursing staff—some of them good, some of them not so good. The staffing ratio could do enormous harm.”

Braun said Senate Bill 5582, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Holy (R-Spokane), would help address hospital staffing issues. SB 5582 would reduce barriers and expand educational opportunities to increase the state’s nurse workforce. The bill is currently in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday.

Washington’s inclusion in the Nurse Licensure Compact could also help address the issue, Braun said. He noted that Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) has introduced SB 5499, which would enter Washington into the compact. Washington is one of only 13 states that is not a member of the compact.  

“We can get more folks into the profession,” Braun said. “We need to work on ways to reduce barriers, reduce costs, and make sure the state’s paying its share of the cost. And we do that primarily with Medicaid.”

Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) noted that SB 5499 passed in the Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care with a 7-3 vote. 

“It’s sponsored by Sen. Mullet, but all the Republicans on the committee supported it,” Padden said. “I hope it can go the distance this year. It’s kind of been bottled up, and there’s a lot of support. I think it’s a good piece of legislation, and I’m hopeful it can move forward.”

SB 5499 is now pending action in the Senate Rules Committee.

Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (R-Republic) said a bill she sponsors, House Bill 1713, would help address hospital financial inequities. HB 1713 would establish a pilot project that would increase medical assistance payments for Washington providers in rural and underserved areas.

“I have HB 1713 that talks about payment parity in the state,” Maycumber said. “We’re seeing healthcare deserts where high Medicare/Medicaid rates are. And we need to make sure those rates come up, or we’re not going to see healthcare providers and access in those areas.”

Braun said another healthcare issue, child care and early learning, is not getting enough attention in the current legislative session. 

“The state needs to do less in terms of over-regulating child care and early learning, and do more in terms of doing our fair share,” Braun said. “What we have done is make it less and less accessible to the average Washingtonian family by driving up the cost.”

To make ends meet, child care providers have to charge more for their services, particularly for  middle-class families who do not receive state aid, which adds to their financial burdens, Braun said. 

“The single [most important] thing we can do is make sure we’re paying a fair rate, and stop driving additional regulations for something human beings have done for a millennium, which is look after each other’s children,” Braun said. “We should make sure we’re paying a fair rate, and not driving regulations.”

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm) said unnecessary qualifications that are required for people to work in the field are prohibiting opportunities to supplement it.

“It achieves exactly the opposite of what it’s intended to do,” Wilcox said. “It makes it more expensive, less available, and creates problems across our economy. We should learn from that.”

Maycumber noted that she has not seen many child care and early learning policies move forward this session, and remains concerned about bills that were approved in the past.

“I did have some concerns about some of the bills we passed a few years ago regarding child care, and that investment, and how it would reach many parts of my district,” Maycumber said. “I have been looking for policies to move forward, and I haven’t seen much.”