“I understand making sure that we have rest breaks and things like that. But … I would submit to you that those nurses probably do get breaks! They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day!”State Senator Maureen Walsh
That’s how it all started, with these remarks by a state legislator in Washington. Lawmakers were debating a bill to introduce mandatory, uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses who work at least 12 hours per day, and limits to mandatory overtime. But Senator Maureen Walsh (R) did not agree.
Complaining about nurses who “start talking out of both sides of their mouth and telling us how tired they are,” Maureen Walsh insisted that smaller critical access hospitals like those in her rural district should be exempted. “We need to care for patients first and foremost,” she argued, ignoring how patients’ lives are put in danger exactly when nurses are being forced to work overtime without rest breaks.
She probably expected her remarks to, at most, make the local newspaper. Instead, they set off a firestorm among nurses across the country.
This Nurses Day, we’ll help you make a point … and have some fun!
Tell us what message you would send Sen. Walsh and we’ll send you a special Nurses Day deck of cards this Sunday! We’ll send a free deck to any nurse who wants one until we run out, and we’ll publish the best comments here.
Just leave your message here in the comments or on our Facebook post or Instagram post, and we’ll get in touch. (And if you send us back a photo of you or your team playing cards, you’ll automatically qualify for our $250 nurse photo contest as well.)
When will Sen. Walsh shadow a nurse, and find out what nursing is really like?
When she heard about Sen. Walsh’s remarks, a pediatric nurse from Chicago, Juliana Bindas, posted a petition on Change.org for Walsh to shadow a nurse for a 12 hour shift. “I would like to take a stand and petition to have the Senator experience what really happens during an RN’s 12 hour shift,” she explained, adding that “she most likely won’t be playing uno….” It promptly went viral and has over 800,000 signatures now!
“I believe experience is one of the best teachers, Juliana told journalists, “and this opportunity could provide Senator Walsh with a view into what a nurse’s world really looks like”. The petition is still getting new signatures even now, with not just nurses but patients and their family members leaving moving statements of support as well:
My husband was recently hospitalized for two weeks. His nurses administered to all his needs with professionalism, efficiency, warmth and a caring attitude. They work long hours and still manage to keep their sense of humor. Thank them for what they do for you and your loved ones!
Within days after her remarks, Sen. Walsh’s office had received 10,000 emails, more than 35,000 phone calls, and 1,700 decks of playing cards from angry nurses and their supporters. And thousands of nurses were not just signing the petition and sending mail, but sharing bitingly sarcastic memes and comments on social media. We posted quite a few ourselves too on Facebook and Instagram!
Thanks to the support of the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) and many other nurse activists, the bill passed anyway in both House and Senate, by large majorities, and without amendments that would have limited its impact. Ironically, Sen. Walsh’s comments may have made all the difference: advocates of the nurse workplace protections had tried five times before to pass them in the state legislature, and failed every time. But her remarks galvanized supporters, increasing the political costs of opposing them.
Walsh herself offered her “heartfelt apologies to those I offended with my comments”, claiming she “was tired, and in the heat of argument … said some things about nurses that were taken out of context”.
She still insisted that “it isn’t proper for the Legislature to micromanage the way hospitals manage their staffing,” arguing that “small-town, critical access hospitals “are already operating in the red” and couldn’t afford the new measures, even though the WSNA has pointed out that the average critical access hospital in Washington has an annual surplus of $5.2 million. But she added that “I really don’t believe nurses at our critical access hospitals spend their days playing cards, but I did say it, and I wish I could reel it back,” and that she I looked “forward to receiving” the petition “and am happy to accept”.
Did she, though? Sen. Walsh “may soon shadow a nurse for a day,” CNN reported almost three weeks ago, but there appears to have been radio silence since…
What if 800,000 nurses would sign up to the next cause as well?
The response to Sen. Walsh’s remarks has been impressive. But what more could it achieve? Nurse unions, activists and bloggers are using the occasion to appeal to nurses to go beyond sharing memes.
“We can use that same fervor we unleashed against a politician’s dumbass comment to unify ourselves, watch each others’ backs, and take back our control … Half a million nurses signed the petition to get Senator Walsh to follow a nurse for an entire 12 hour shift. Half a million nurses should be signing this petition for National Legislation. … I challenge every nurse to take a first step by joining a grassroots organization in taking back healthcare for everyone – especially for the good of the patients we are supposed to be caring for.”
“I know you’re angry,” wrote union nurse leader Bonnie Castillo in An Open Letter to Nurses on Playing Cards. “The question is: What are you going to do about it? Don’t just get mad. Get a union. Join us.”