OLYMPIA — A bill to help address the health care staffing shortage by mitigating unmanageable patient loads and worker burnout was signed into law Thursday. 

Senate Bill 5236, sponsored by Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett), requires hospitals to submit staffing plans to the state Department of Health. The expected staff-to-patient staffing standards would be developed by a hospital’s designated staffing committee, composed of 50% frontline staff and 50% hospital administration. 

If a hospital is less than 80% compliant with its committee’s approved plan, DOH and the state Department of Labor & Industries can investigate and require a corrective action plan, along with possible penalties. The legislation also helps ensure existing break and overtime laws for health care workers — passed in 2019 — are followed, so they receive legally required meal and rest breaks. 

“By creating an enforcement mechanism with real penalties, we can ensure safe-staffing standards are followed rather than ignored, allowing workers to do their jobs safely and provide our loved ones the quality care they deserve,” Robinson said. “Washington should be a place health care workers want to come and have long, successful careers — this is a necessary, meaningful step toward that goal.” 

A poll released in February revealed 49% of Washington’s health care workers said they are “likely to leave the health care profession in the next few years.” Among those who said they were likely to leave, 68% said short staffing was one of their primary reasons. 

Nearly half of workers also said their hospitals experienced a patient safety event leading to harm or death in the last year, which they believed was due to short staffing.