Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians begin statewide strike at 6 a.m. today

December 16th, 2019

Five-day action by 4,000 Kaiser caregivers will potentially shut down mental health services at more than 100 Kaiser facilities across California

Thousands of Kaiser Permanente psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and other healthcare professionals are streaming to picket lines Monday to begin a five-day strike to demand that Kaiser demonstrate good faith and fix its broken mental health system that leaves patients waiting months for appointments and therapists overwhelmed with crushing caseloads.

Caregivers represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers will march on picket lines from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at the following locations:

  • Bakersfield Medical Center, 8800 Ming Ave.

  • Anaheim Medical Center, 3440 E. La Palma Ave.

  • Fontana Medical Center, 9961 Sierra Ave.

  • San Diego Medical Center, 9455 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.

  • South Bay Medical Center, S. Vermont Street, Harbor City (LA County)

  • Panorama City Medical Center, 13651 Willard St. (LA County)

  • Fresno Medical Center, 7300 N. Fresno St.

  • Sacramento Medical Center, 2025 Morse Ave.

  • San Francisco Medical Center, 2425 Geary Blvd.

  • Santa Clara Medical Center and Tantau Clinic, 700/710 Lawrence Expressway (Medical Center) 19000 Homestead Road, Cupertino (Clinic)

On Tuesday, clinicians will hold large rallies outside Kaiser facilities in Oakland and Los Angeles. Click here for a full schedule of picket locations and contact information for psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and addiction medicine specialists available for interviews.

“We’re striking because the problems that plague Kaiser’s mental health system keep getting worse,” said Kenneth Rogers, a Kaiser psychologist. “We don’t have enough time to provide proper patient care which includes the preparation and follow up work that goes into every appointment. And patients are being forced to endure even longer wait times for appointments, while Kaiser sits on billions of dollars refusing to fix the problem.”

Over the past year, more than 1,000 Kaiser patients have recounted their struggles to access mental health care at the website KaiserDontDeny.org, and several of them will attend rallies this week.

“When I had a severe panic attack, Kaiser told me there would be a one-month wait to see a therapist,” said Jocelyn Combs, a Kaiser patient in Pleasanton, Calif. “At one point, I refused to leave the lobby until Kaiser helped me find a therapist, but the appointments were so infrequent, I eventually realized that I had to go outside Kaiser and pay for weekly therapy.”

Kaiser has been fined millions of dollars and placed under state-ordered outside monitoring for repeatedly violating California mental health parity laws. Nonetheless, Kaiser clinics remain severely understaffed, patients are routinely forced to wait six-to-eight weeks — and sometimes longer — for therapy appointments and clinicians are so overbooked that they have to work after hours trying to help patients who can’t wait for care.

In a survey conducted earlier this year, 77% of Kaiser’s clinicians reported that on a daily basis, they must schedule their patients’ return appointments further into the future than is clinically appropriate. Nearly three-quarters reported that appointment wait times for their patients have grown worse during the past two years.

Kaiser clinicians, who have been working without a contract for over a year, held a five-day statewide strike last December. Since that strike, Kaiser has unlawfully demanded that clinicians drop unfair labor practice complaints as part of a settlement proposal and retaliated against clinicians by threatening to withdraw a retroactive cost-of-living wage increase after clinicians rejected a settlement proposal that did not go far enough to improve access to care.

Both sides have tentatively agreed to commence a collaborative process to reinvent Kaiser’s mental health system. But given Kaiser’s failure to follow through on previous collaborative efforts, clinicians want safeguards for improved patient care to be written into the contract. These include:

  • Enough time for clinicians to do their jobs well, which includes being able to chart patient encounters, communicate with social service agencies and respond to calls and emails from patients who can’t be seen.

  • Improving access to return appointments by immediately adopting a ratio of 5 appointments with returning patients for every appointment with a new patient.

  • Crisis services in every clinic so patients don’t have to be unnecessarily hospitalized and clinicians don’t have to cancel appointments to treat patients in desperate need of care.

Clinicians are also proposing that Kaiser restore pensions that it unilaterally rescinded for newly hired mental health clinicians in Southern California, but which remain in place for nearly all other Kaiser employees.

Currently, Kaiser is refusing to negotiate a settlement to avert the strike unless mental health clinicians agree to accept significantly poorer retirement and health benefits than Kaiser provides to more than 120,000 other employees in California.

“Kaiser has reported net profits exceeding $6 billion so far this year,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “It has no excuse to deny its mental health clinicians the same benefits as other Kaiser employees and deny its patients the same access to mental health care that it provides for every other medical service.”

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-led union representing 15,000 workers including more than 4,000 psychologists, social workers, therapists, psychiatric nurses and other mental health clinicians.