No matter what else happens in life, there’s one universal truism that you can always count on: you never want your hospital nurse to be performing the I need a bathroom break” dance in the middle of your IV inser­tion. That is just one reason why the Washington State Nurses Association’s Rest Breaks Bill” (SHB 1155) encoding uninter­rupted rest breaks as a right and require­ment for health care workers, is so important.

It is irrefutable that when nurses do not get their breaks, patient care suffers. The liter­a­ture reflects this ad nauseum. When nurses work longer without stopping, the risk of medica­tion errors, employee accidents, decision regret” and miscel­la­neous other errors increase. Indeed, nurse fatigue is strongly associ­ated with negative impact on nurses’ health and the quality of the patient care they provide.” The fact that rest breaks are incred­ibly impor­tant to high-quality patient care also passes the common-sense test: if the nurse performing your post-opera­tive brain surgery cares has not had 15 minutes in the past 12 hours to sit down and eat lunch in order to maintain her blood glucose levels, are her shaking, food-deprived hands really in the best inter­ests of you, the patient?

We as nurses get into the profes­sion to take care of others in their most vulner­able time of need. We cannot do that to the best of our ability, which is what we all strive to do, if we are not allowed to take care of ourselves. And that is what WSNA’s rest breaks bill is all about.

Unfor­tu­nately, this common-sense bill has hit some turbu­lence in the Washington state Senate that may prevent it from passing. Hospital admin­is­tra­tors are saying that letting nurses take the rest breaks they are entitled to is just too expen­sive. In fact, the Hospital Association’s tactics at the legisla­tive level are begin­ning to belie belief. Despite having seen this bill every year since 2010, the Hospital Associ­a­tion continues to develop new excuses for why patients do not deserve nurses who have the oppor­tu­nity to take reason­able rest breaks: this year, the Hospital Associ­a­tion has said that nurses would take breaks in the middle of an emergency, that organ trans­plants would be adversely affected and that other health care workers such as respi­ra­tory thera­pists and nursing assis­tants should be removed from the bill because they don’t deserve the right to uninter­rupted rest breaks.

As we all know, these asser­tions are laugh­able. Further­more, what hospital admin­is­tra­tors are not admit­ting is that failing to allow uninter­rupted rest breaks is likely much more costly than the alternative.

As nurses across the country know, nurse burnout and turnover have reached endemic levels. At a time when it costs anywhere from $27,000 to $103,000 to replace a nurse, hospi­tals simply cannot afford to let more nurses walk out the door, and that’s without even getting into the impli­ca­tions of the nursing shortage and a looming nurse retire­ment boom.

This fact becomes all the more perti­nent when one considers the fact that WSNA and other health care unions have won nearly a dozen multi­mil­lion-dollar awards on behalf of workers denied their legal rights with respect to rest breaks. There’s a class action lawsuit here, a $2.9 million dollar judgment there, a $5 million dollar settle­ment just for good measure. At this point, suing hospi­tals for not providing and/​or paying for missed rest breaks has become great business for lawyers as admin­is­tra­tors ignore the impli­ca­tions for patient care.

So what’s the lunacy of the rest breaks bill? That it’s even required at all. It’s time for Washington to update its rest breaks standard– patient safety depends on it.

We need your help — this bill will not pass without grass­roots member activism. If you think nurses receiving the rest breaks they are entitled to is impor­tant to patient care, please: take action and send a note to your Senator here.