Press release

Critical Access Hospitals Financially Healthy, Able To Implement Patient Safety Standards

Hospital Nurses and Technicians Rallying Wednesday To Protect Patients at Small, Rural Hospitals

OLYMPIA, WA: A last minute amendment added to a bipartisan patient safety bill (SHB 1155) in the State Senate exempts Washington’s 40 “critical access hospitals” in rural areas from statewide standards, impacting thousands of patients, nurses, and technicians.

Now hospital nurses and technicians are fighting to remove the loophole, planning a rally in Olympia on Wednesday, and releasing a new analysis showing critical access hospitals should have no problem complying with the bill’s patient safety standards.

Backers of the loophole claim critical access hospitals’ staff are not busy enough to need breaks, and that most of these hospitals are “in the red.” But a new analysis shows the majority of these small, rural hospitals are financially healthy and well equipped to implement SHB 1155’s patient safety standards:

  • Over the last four years of reports, the total net income (surplus) for Washington’s 40 critical access hospitals is $208,657,776, with an average surplus of $5,216,444 per hospital.
  • Over the four-year period of 2014-2017, 25 out of Washington’s 40 critical access hospitals reported surpluses greater than seven-figures.
  • It is true that some critical access hospitals are reporting negative net margins. For the same four-year period 10 hospitals or 25%— not 61% —were in the red and those deficits were often due to specific factors related to expansions or redevelopments,

(Source: WA DOH. Full data analysis available upon request.)

The critical access hospitals’ own nurses refute claims that they don’t need breaks, or have time to play cards:

“I was a nurse in Oregon for 16 years, and the difference between Oregon and Washington hospitals is stark,” said Wes McMahan, an acute care nurse at critical access hospital Arbor Health (previously called Morton Hospital) in Lewis County and member of WSNA. “Hospitals have rough nights and full beds in both states, but in Oregon we had the staff and time to take breaks, to review charts together, to take care of our patients, ourselves, and each other. Thanks to rest breaks laws in Oregon, we could focus on high quality patient care and teamwork, and we had enough nurses to make the team work - Washington’s patients and frontline healthcare providers deserve the same.”

Morton Hospital reported a $1.6 million combined surplus over the last 4 years.

“As a nurse at the critical access hospital in Pasco, I flew to Olympia to meet with Senator Walsh to ask my fellow Republican to support the bipartisan bill mandating rest breaks for hospital nurses and healthcare technicians,” said Nicole Worley, an orthopedic nurse at critical access hospital Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco, and member of UFCW 21. “I explained our orthopedic unit is often filled to capacity because Lourdes handles more knee, hip, and spinal surgeries than the other two regional hospitals combined. We may be small, but we’re just as busy as big hospitals.”

Lourdes Medical Center reported a $7.1 million combined surplus over the last 4 years.

“Whether or not we get rest breaks depends entirely on the day of the week,” explainedCody Staub, an emergency room nurse at critical access hospital Kittitas Valley Community Hospital in Ellensburg, and member of WSNA. “We see between 40 and 45 emergency patients a day in our 8.5 bed emergency room, and most weeknights we are too busy caring for car accident victims, strokes, and other emergency patients coming through our doors to get a break. People don't realize that some small hospitals hire too few staff, and in an emergency people stay past their 10 or 12 hour shifts and pitch in because we care about our patients and our co-workers.”

Kittitas Valley reported a $15.7 million combined surplus over the last 4 years.

Patients at critical access hospitals need alert, focused caregivers, just like patients at every other hospital in WA. On average, 400,000 patients die each year in the U.S. from avoidable medical errors, according to a study in the Journal of Patient Safety. Medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the US after cancer and heart disease. Avoidable medical errors cost an estimated $19.5 billion annually in the U.S., including medical expenses, mortality, and loss of productivity.

The three unions for hospital caregivers - UFCW 21, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, and the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) - say they’ve already accepted clarifying and improving amendments that give hospital administrators more implementation flexibility.


SEIU Healthcare 1199NWis the largest union of nurses and healthcare workers in Washington State, with over 30,000 caregivers throughout hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities, skilled home health and hospice programs. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW’s mission is to advocate for quality care and good jobs for all Washingtonians.

UFCW 21is the largest private-sector union in Washington with over 46,000 members working in grocery store retail health care and other industry jobs. UFCW 21 is a chartered member of UFCW International with over 1.4 million workers in North America.

WSNAis the leading voice and advocate for nurses in Washington state, providing

representation, education and resources that allow nurses to reach their full professional potential and focus on caring for patients. WSNA represents more than 17,000 registered nurses for collective bargaining who provide care in hospitals, clinics, schools and community and public health settings across the state.

Press contact

Ruth Schubert
Director of Marketing and Communications
Send email
206-575-7979, ext. 3043