Cards pile up at Walsh’s office; senator discusses remarks on Senate floor

Sen. Maureen Walsh poses with the avalanche of mail that has arrived in her office.

To see video of Sen. Walsh’s remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, click here.

OLYMPIA – Cards from nurses are arriving by the binload at the office of Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla – playing cards, that is.

About 1,700 decks have been delivered so far to Walsh’s office at the Capitol in Olympia from nurses across the country, following her remarks on the Senate floor last week. During heated debate on a bill that would impose rigid nursing scheduling requirements on hospitals, Walsh raised concerns that the measure would force small-town hospitals to close – and said their nurses get breaks, and might even spend a “considerable amount of the day” playing cards.

Walsh has since apologized, but the cards keep coming. Now she has to figure out what to do with them.

“I like poker as much as anyone, but I think I’m pretty well stocked up right now,” Walsh said. “One thing’s for sure. It’s a good time to be in the playing-card business.”

Walsh plans to distribute the cards to nursing homes and veterans’ and senior centers. She has enlisted fellow senators in helping identify facilities that might be able to use them.

Walsh said she regrets the remarks, but remains firmly opposed to House Bill 1155, which would mandate that small-town hospitals, as well as large urban facilities, provide uninterrupted rest and meal breaks to nurses during their shifts. The union-backed measure would dramatically increase staffing costs by requiring the hiring of more nurses, and Walsh says she is concerned the expense would drive low-traffic smaller hospitals out of business.

“I wish I could take my words back, but the issue remains important,” she said. “Our critical access hospitals serve an important role in smaller communities across the state. Many already are operating in the red, and this could put them under.”

Walsh’s office has received 10,000 emails and more than 35,000 phone calls since last Friday, when video of her comments was circulated by the bill’s advocates. News accounts indicate that more than a half-million nurses have signed a petition urging Walsh to shadow a nurse for a day on a 12-hour shift. Walsh said she looks forward to receiving the petition and will be glad to accept.

Walsh discussed the furor in remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday. Rising to speak to a “point of personal privilege,” she said she was disturbed by the level of anger that has been generated. “First and foremost, if in fact I insulted anybody – and apparently I insulted a lot of people – I truly do wish to apologize for those comments.” Walsh noted that her mother was a registered nurse. “I have nothing but respect and absolute admiration for the work they do, and the people they care for.”

But Walsh said she is troubled by the way her comments are being used by the bill’s advocates to drum up support for the bill. She said she intended to draw a comparison between well-staffed urban hospitals and lightly trafficked small-town facilities, and make the point that the Legislature has no business micromanaging their scheduling. She said the issue is more important than a few ill-chosen words on the Senate floor. “Frankly, I am very embarrassed by the comments, but I am more embarrassed by the fact that this whole issue has been sort of gamed politically, and I am really sorry for that.” She added, “It’s stinky politics at the best.”

Following negotiations between the House and Senate, the two chambers passed a version of the bill Wednesday that removes a critical amendment adopted by the Senate last week. The final version of the bill applies to all hospitals in the state, and does not exempt the small-town critical access hospitals, those of less than 25 beds. Another Senate amendment limiting nurses to 8-hour shifts also was eliminated. The final vote on the bill was 32-16 in the Senate and 70-24 in the House. The bill now moves on to the governor’s office.