Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians launch 5-day strike

NewsDecember 16, 2019

Psychologists, mental health therapists and other medical professionals at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente began a five-day strike Dec. 16 at facilities across California, according to the union that represents them.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers said it expects about 4,000 Kaiser caregivers to participate in the strike, potentially shutting down mental health services at more than 100 Kaiser facilities.

“We’re striking because the problems that plague Kaiser’s mental health system keep getting worse,” Kenneth Rogers, a Kaiser psychologist, said in a news release. “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.”

Kaiser and the union have been working on a contract for about a year. Union members have been calling on Kaiser to reduce patient wait times for therapy appointments and protested what they called barriers to mental health access. They went on strike in December 2018. Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers also postponed a strike last month. The strike was initially scheduled for Nov. 11 to Nov. 15 but was rescheduled for Dec. 16 to Dec. 20 after the death of Kaiser Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson.

Michelle J. Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president of hospital and health plan operations for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, told The Sacramento Bee Kaiser has made proposals that would provide excellent benefits, keep Kaiser therapists among the highest paid in the state, and provide workers with more time for patient appointments and administrative duties.

She also said Kaiser has asked the union to continue to work with a mediator and the health system instead of striking.

“Like every other healthcare provider, we are seeing a significant demand for mental healthcare in the face of a national shortage of qualified professionals,” she told the newspaper. “Despite this shortage, we have hired nearly 500 new therapists in California this year alone.”

Kaiser said hospitals and medical offices will remain open during the strike, but they will call patients to reschedule some non-urgent appointments, where necessary.

To view a full schedule of picket locations, click here.