State senator’s office fills with 1,700 decks of cards after she says nurses ‘play cards’ at work

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(Gray News/AP) – A Washington state senator, who provoked the wrath of nurses everywhere by suggesting some of them have time to play cards on their shifts, is now knee-deep in them – cards, not nurses.

Some 1,700 decks have been delivered to Maureen Walsh’s office at the Capitol in Olympia.

“I like poker as much as anyone, but I think I’m pretty well stocked up right now,” Walsh said on the State Republican Caucus website. “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 made the comments last week while debating a Senate bill that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses. The bill would also provide mandatory overtime protections for nurses.

Walsh wants an amendment that would exclude hospitals with fewer than 25 beds from the breaks, The Olympian reported Friday.

Small, rural hospitals "that literally serve a handful of individuals" will have trouble staying open and nurses in those settings "probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day," the newspaper quoted Walsh as saying.

A Washington State Nurses Association blog post about the comments drew so many readers Friday that the site crashed. The group called the comment disrespectful and patronizing.

The hashtags #maureenwalsh and #nursesplaycards went viral on social media. Comedian Kathy Griffin joined the fray Friday, tweeting that her mother worked in a hospital.

"Thank you of alerting me to a group that even I am not stupid enough to piss off. Ever," Griffin tweeted.

Walsh told The Olympian on Saturday she regrets her comments, which were not intended to be malicious.

“I was tired,” she said. “I said something I wish I hadn’t.”

She also said she has the “greatest respect for nurses” and her mother was a registered nurse for many years, CNN reports.

The bill specifically requires that nurses and some other staff, such as surgical technologists and diagnostic radiologic technologists, be provided uninterrupted meal and rest periods, except when there is an unforeseeable circumstance.

The union-backed measure would dramatically increase staffing costs by requiring the hiring of more nurses, according to Walsh. She said she’s 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,” Walsh 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.”

The Washington House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill. They would have to reconciled before being signed into law.

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