Walsh apologizes for saying nurses play cards on the job. This isn’t her first viral go-round

Sen. Maureen Walsh’s gay marriage comments went viral, too. Here’s what she said

Seven years ago, then-Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, broke ranks with her party to support same-sex marriage. Recently, her comments about nurses playing cards sparked outrage.
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Seven years ago, then-Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, broke ranks with her party to support same-sex marriage. Recently, her comments about nurses playing cards sparked outrage.

Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh formally apologized Monday afternoon to nurses and others offended by her comment about nurses playing cards at work.

On Saturday, she told the Herald she regretted the remarks, but went a step further on Monday.

“I was tired, and in the heat of argument on the Senate floor, I said some things about nurses that were taken out of context — but still they crossed the line,” she said in a statement Monday.

She also said she is looking forward to receiving a petition circulated on change.org calling for her to shadow a nurse for 12 hours. She will be happy to accept, she said.

During a debate on SHB 1155 she said that nurses at very small hospitals “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

“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,” she said.

She was trying to differentiate between the staffing needs of small, rural hospitals with a handful of patients, like Dayton General Hospital in her district, and those of large urban hospitals that have hundreds of patients.

The bill would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks and strengthened protections against mandatory overtime.

Walsh said it would impose inflexible staffing requirements on hospitals and dramatically increase their costs.

Nurses in Washington state are calling comments about nurses "playing cards" by Sen. Maureen Walsh disrespectful and patronizing after she argued that mandatory rest breaks at the tiniest hospitals would be too much of a burden.

She’s concerned about the 61 percent of small town hospitals, or critical access hospitals, already operating in the red, she said.

“I am worried this added cost will force some of them to close,” she said. “It isn’t proper for the Legislature to micromanage the way hospitals manage their staffing.”

Nurses say bill should apply to all

The Washington State Nurses Association, which supports the bill and wants it to cover all nurses regardless of hospital size, said the majority of hospitals in the state that are designated critical access hospitals are not losing money.

Critical access hospitals have 25 beds or fewer and offer 24-hour emergency care to mostly rural residents.

Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-16 Washington State Legislative Support Services

Walsh also addressed her amendment to limit nursing shifts to eight hours, in her comments on Monday.

She had previously said she offered it only to make a point. The Democrat-controlled Senate passed it.

The thousands of nurses who have contacted Walsh’s office have been clear that they prefer to work 12-hour shifts so they can spend time with their families, Walsh said on Monday.

She supports removal of the amendment and is confident it will be stripped from the bill, she said.

“I have the greatest respect for nurses, for their hard work, tremendous compassion and the excellent care they gave me when I ended up in the hospital last year,” she said. “My mother was an RN, and I know from personal experience the long hours she worked, sacrificing to provide for her family.”

Nationwide outcry

Nurses and others, not just in Washington state but across the nation, were outraged by her comment that some nurses played cards on the job.

One change.org petition calling for her to shadow a nurse for a shift had more than 600,000 signatures Monday afternoon. A similar petition had more than 50,000 signatures.

Nurses posted to social media about long days, with little time to use the restroom, let alone get a snack.

Many called for her to resign or to be voted out of office. Others said they were mailing decks of cards to her Olympia office.

“Thank you (for) alerting me to a group that even I am not stupid enough to piss off,” posted comedian Kathy Griffin on Twitter.

Other Twitter accounts had memes captioned “when my patient starts coding and interrupts by card game” and “when you lose your scrubs in strip poker but have to update the patient’s family.”

One nurse posted an apology to her family for the birthdays, wedding and holidays she had missed because she was “busy playing cards at the hospital.”

Her comments have gone viral before

Walsh has seen her comments go viral across the nation before.

But when it happened in 2012, it was mostly those who liked what she had to say who were posting her comments online, including George Takei, of Star Trek fame.

Then she broke ranks with fellow Republicans to support legalizing same-sex marriage.

Video of the speech was posted on BuzzFeed and by Takei, a a high-profile advocate for gay and lesbian rights.

Her office was flooded with calls and emails after an emotional and heartfelt speech she made on the floor of the House spread across the Internet.

She talked about the bond she shared with her late husband and her feeling that denying that for others would be almost cruel.

She worried when her daughter came out as gay, she said.

Walsh said she expected to agonize over her daughter’s status. But nothing was different — her daughter continued to be the same fabulous human being, she said in her floor speech.

It is because people throughout history have spoken up against the vocal majority in support of the rights of the minority that the Legislature has people of different genders, creeds and races, she said.

She has allowed her heart and her mind to guide her on many of the decisions she has made in the Legislature, she said in 2012.

She’s earned a reputation — after serving in the state House for 12 years before her current term in the state Senate — as a fiscal conservative who sometimes departs from the traditional Republican platform on social issues.

Franklin County Republicans censured her in 2009 after she co-sponsored a bill expanding domestic partnership rights.

She’s also pushed to abolish the death penalty, saying it is “so problematic, so costly, so unevenly applied, that we need to recognize there are more effective ways to punish those who commit heinous crimes,” she said.

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Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.