Lawmaker receives thousands of playing cards after saying nurses 'play cards' during work

"I like poker as much as anyone, but I think I’m pretty well stocked up right now,” state Sen. Maureen Walsh said in a statement Wednesday.
Image: Washington State Sen. Maureen Walsh and the decks of playing cards she's received in the mail in Olympia on April 23, 2019.
Washington State Sen. Maureen Walsh and the decks of playing cards she's received in the mail in Olympia on April 23, 2019.Courtesy of Sen. Maureen Walsh

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By Janelle Griffith

A Washington state senator who last week said that some nurses “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day” is making the most of the hand she dealt herself — which amounts to about 1,700 decks of playing cards.

State Sen. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representing College Place, said that she has received thousands of cards, calls and comments since last Friday when a video of her remarks was circulated online.

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

She says the decks of cards have been delivered to her office at the Capitol in Olympia from nurses across the country, following her comments on the Senate floor last week.

Her office has received 10,000 emails and more than 35,000 phone calls protesting her comments, Walsh said.

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While debating a bill on the Senate floor April 16 that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses and protect them against mandatory overtime, Walsh raised concerns that such requirements would make it difficult for rural hospitals to stay open.

"By putting these types of mandates on a critical access hospital that literally serves a handful of individuals, I would submit to you those nurses probably do get breaks," Walsh said. "They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day."

Her comments were met with a nationwide backlash, including from The Washington State Nurses Association, which said her remarks were “incredibly disrespectful and patronizing.”

A nurse in Chicago started a petition on Change.org over the weekend asking that Walsh spend a day shadowing a nurse for a 12-hour shift so she could gain a deeper understanding of the demands on those in the field.

The petition has garnered almost 800,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.

Earlier this week, the senator issued an apology to those she "offended" with her remarks. She said that she regretted her earlier comments and that her mother was a nurse. But she said she is still opposed to the bill.

“I wish I could take my words back, but the issue remains important,” she said Wednesday. “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, who offered an amendment to the bill on April 16 limiting nurses to eight-hour shifts, also said she would be happy to accept the petition's proposal.

“I understand from news accounts that a petition is being circulated urging me to spend a day shadowing a nurse at a local hospital for 12 hours, and walk a mile in her shoes," she said in a statement posted on her website. "I look forward to receiving it and am happy to accept.”

Walsh voted against the bill, which passed the state Senate with the amendment to exclude small hospitals. A different version passed by the House will have to be reconciled before it can be signed into law.