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Washington state lawmaker blasted for saying some nurses 'probably play cards' at work

NBC News logo NBC News 4/23/2019 Janelle Griffith
Maureen Walsh sitting in front of a laptop: Washington Rep. Maureen Walsh speaks during a committee hearing in Olympia on Feb. 20, 2013. © Elaine Thompson Washington Rep. Maureen Walsh speaks during a committee hearing in Olympia on Feb. 20, 2013.

A petition pushing for a Washington state lawmaker — who said nurses in smaller hospitals "probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day" — to shadow someone in the field has garnered more than half a million signatures.

State Sen. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representing College Place, made the remarks last week while debating a bill that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses and protect them against mandatory overtime. Walsh argued that such requirements would make it difficult for rural hospitals to stay open.

"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."

Walsh also said: "I understand helping with employees and making sure that we have rest breaks and things like that. But I also understand that we need to care for patients first and foremost."

Her remark sparked widespread outrage.

Juliana Bindas, a registered nurse from Chicago, started a petition on Change.org over the weekend that garnered almost 600,000 signatures by Monday afternoon.

"I would like to take a stand and petition to have the senator experience what really happens during an RN’s 12-hour shift," Bindas said. "She most likely won't be playing Uno."

Walsh said Monday that she regretted the comments, which she said she wished she had phrased a "little more eloquently."

"Unfortunately, I didn't, and Facebook scooped it up and ran with it," she said, adding that she had gotten threats.

"Nurses are great people," she said. "They work hard. I totally understand. I'm the product of a nurse. My mother was a nurse for many years."

The bill would require that nurses and some other staff, such as diagnostic radiologic technologists or cardiovascular invasive specialists, be provided uninterrupted meal and rest periods, except when there is an unforeseeable circumstance.

Walsh voted against the bill, which passed the state Senate with the amendment to exclude small hospitals. A different version passed by the House will have to be reconciled before it can be signed into law.

The Washington State Nurses Association said Walsh's comments were “incredibly disrespectful and patronizing.”

"There is zero logic behind an amendment to the rest breaks bill that would cover nurses and patients in some hospitals, while leaving others without any protections," it said in a statement.

The association also said it would make it more difficult to recruit nurses to rural facilities.

"With all due respect, Sen. Walsh: perhaps it's time for you to put down the cards and pick up the literature," it said.

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