Washington’s healthcare workforce facing widespread burnout, poll finds

Healthcare unions urge the state Legislature to pass safe staffing standards to prevent mass workforce exodus.

New polling among Washington’s healthcare workforce released by the WA Safe + Healthy coalition reveals widespread burnout and workplace safety concerns amid a reported hospital staffing shortage.

In the poll, conducted among members of UFCW 3000, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and the Washington State Nurses Association — who collectively represent more than 75,000 healthcare workers in Washington — 49% of healthcare workers in Washington said they are “likely to leave the healthcare 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.

Additionally, 79% of healthcare workers said they were burned out, and about 45% of workers said they feel unsafe at their job in healthcare.

“Hospital executives have failed our state’s healthcare workers,” said Alexandra Freeman-Smith, a lab assistant at UW Medical Center – Northwest in Seattle in a statement regarding the polling. “We warned them about an impending recruitment and retention crisis for years and they chose to continue to under-staff our hospitals, putting profits above worker and patient safety. New polling showing half of us are likely to quit underscores the urgency for lawmakers to intervene by passing safe staffing standards.”

This is the second year healthcare workers’ unions have asked Washington legislators to step in and pass safe staffing standards — this year proposed in Senate Bill 5236.

According to the unions, safe staffing standards would protect any one healthcare worker from being assigned too many patients at a time and would make sure hospital executives hire enough staff to ensure worker and patient safety. By reducing burnout and making working conditions safer, healthcare workers say safe staffing standards will address the staffing crisis.

“Don’t believe hospital executives who say the crisis is due to a shortage of healthcare workers,” said Derek Roybal, a cardiovascular tech at Providence Sacred Heart in Spokane. “They’re just trying to pass the buck on their own mismanagement. There’s no shortage of healthcare workers, just a shortage of healthcare workers willing to risk their lives and their licenses working in the conditions hospitals have created.”

IWA Department of Health data show that there are approximately 16,000 actively licensed nurses in Washington not currently working in nursing. While WA Safe + Healthy coalition partners support increasing workforce development investments like hospitals have called for, executives’ claims that graduating more workers will address the staffing crisis are a “red herring.”

“Healthcare workers are leaving the bedside at an alarming rate because of unmanageable and unsafe staffing conditions, not because they’ve changed their minds about working in healthcare,” said Erin Allison, an emergency room nurse at St. Joseph in Bellingham. “Graduating more workers into the field won’t matter if we’re just burning them out in two years or less – that’s not addressing the crisis, that’s running in place. The only way we can retain the workers we have, bring back ones we’ve lost, and recruit new ones to the field is by ensuring safe staffing standards.”