Kaiser clinicians stage mental health march in Oakland

October 31st, 2019

Kaiser Permanente psychologists, therapists, and social workers took to the streets Saturday, October 19 to protest Kaiser’s chronic failure to provide its patients with timely access to mental health care. 

The mental health clinicians, along with patients and community allies, gathered at Kaiser’s corporate headquarters in Oakland before marching down Grand Avenue to the eastern shore of Lake Merritt.

“Whether you are a therapist working at Kaiser or a patient seeking therapy, you know the truth about Kaiser’s mental health services,” Shay Loftus, a Kaiser psychologist, said during a rally at the lake. “People are waiting much too long for appointments. Group therapy sessions are much too crowded. And too many people are getting sicker because Kaiser is denying them the mental health care they are paying for and that Kaiser is legally required to provide.”

 The march — which was covered by KQED radio, KPFA radio, California Healthline, the Mercury News/East Bay Times — was part of an around-the-clock vigil mental health clinicians are holding outside Kaiser’s headquarters. Earlier this month, the clinicians assembled a monument to Kaiser’s failure to achieve parity for mental health care in the form of a 60-foot-long wall adorned with the tragic stories submitted from scores of Kaiser mental health patients. 

 “We don’t do the ‘Thrive’ part” when it comes to mental health care services, Kaiser Social Worker Kathy Ray told the San Jose Mercury News. “I have a real commitment to my patients. Kaiser has the money to do better than they are doing.”

Despite reporting more than $40 billion in cash and investments, Kaiser has understaffed its mental health clinics, forcing most patients to wait at least six weeks to see their therapists. In some clinics, wait times now exceed three months.

“We see a lot of patients with depression who get discouraged and don’t come back,” Ann Rivello, a social worker and psychotherapist who works in Kaiser’s Redwood City clinic, told the Mercury News.

Greta Christina, a Kaiser patient who spoke at Saturday’s rally, told the Mercury News that she liked Kaiser “until I needed mental health care.”

Christina, a San Francisco resident, said she gets better when she can see her therapist, but she’s lucky to get an appointment once a month. She told the paper that she tries self-help techniques, but that sometimes she struggles to leave her home or even get out of bed.

“I’m doing what I can,” Christina said. “It’s better than not doing it, but it’s not real care.”