Washington state senator sparks backlash for saying nurses spend time 'playing cards'

A Washington state senator faced backlash this week after she remarked that some nurses spend portions of their day "playing cards."

Maureen Walsh (R) made the comments while discussing a bill on the state Senate floor that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses, The Spokane Spokesman-Review reported.

Walsh argued in favor of an amendment that would exclude smaller, rural hospitals from the requirement. The amendment was ultimately adopted.

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“I understand … making sure the we have ‘rest breaks’ and things like that, but I also understand that we need to care for patients first and foremost,” Walsh said.

“I would submit to you that those (small hospital) nurses probably do get breaks,” she continued. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

The Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), which opposed the amendment, denounced Walsh’s comments, calling them “incredibly disrespectful and patronizing.” The group said that working unplanned overtime can lead to a lower quality of care, higher burnout rates, decreased patient satisfaction and increased errors.

“No, Senator, nurses are not sitting around playing cards. They are taking care of your neighbors, your family, your community,” WSNA said. “And they do read the research: mandatory overtime is bad for patient care and it’s bad for your rural hospitals. With all due respect, Sen. Walsh: perhaps it’s time for you to put down the cards and pick up the literature.”

The group posted about Walsh’s comments on Thursday. The post drew so many readers to the website that it crashed for a period on Friday, The Spokesman-Review reported.

The Hill has reached out to Walsh for comment.

The Washington Republican's comments sparked a wave of social media responses from nurses and medical professionals as well as comedian Kathy Griffin, among others. 

"Dear #maureenwalsh, Representative from Washington State, Thank you of alerting me to a group that even I am not stupid enough to piss off. Ever. ps. My mom, Maggie Griffin, worked in a hospital for decades," Griffin wrote.

“Senator Maureen Walsh... here’s a picture of me ‘playing cards,’” one nurse wrote. “I was scrubbed in a 6 hour open heart surgery a couple days ago.  No breaks, no bathroom break... and definitely no game of gin rummy.”

The bill ultimately passed in the state Senate with the amendment excluding small hospitals, The Spokesman-Review reported. The legislation previously passed in the state House without the change.

Walsh also proposed an amendment that would ban licensed practical or registered nurses from working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period in a health care facility, the newspaper noted.

“Well, if we have an issue with nurses getting tired, let’s quit letting them do 12 hour shifts,” she said. Nurses want the longer shifts “but then they come back and start talking out both sides of their mouth and telling us how tired they are.”

The amendment to the Washington Senate bill was approved by the Democrat-majority Senate.