More than 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians to start open-ended strike August 15
“We’re serving a strike notice because our patients aren’t receiving needed services.”
Outraged that patients wait months for therapy sessions, 2,000 California therapists at the nation’s largest non-profit HMO will strike to persuade Kaiser Permanente to provide real parity for mental health care.
Daily picket lines and rallies will be held outside Kaiser Facilities throughout the Bay Area and from Sacramento to Fresno.
More than 2,000 unionized psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers in Northern California are poised to start an open-ended strike on Monday, August 15 to demand that the nation’s largest non-profit HMO provide desperately needed mental health services to its patients.
“Patients are getting ripped off while Kaiser’s coffers are bulging,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents the workers. “We don’t take striking lightly but it’s time to take a stand and make Kaiser spend some of its billions on mental health care.”
Most of the nation’s mental health clinicians are not represented by a union. Rosselli said that lack of representation is one of the reasons mental health care has not attained parity in services.
“Our members plan to use the tools of a union to achieve for their patients the care they deserve and parity required by law,” he said.
The U.S. is experiencing a parallel pandemic in mental health. In California and across the nation, even across the globe, a record number of patients are reporting that they are suffering from stress, anxiety and depression.
National survey data shows that the rate of anxiety and depression tripled from 2020 to 2021, while last year the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry declared a “national emergency” over a “shocking” rise in families seeking urgent mental help for their children. Yet as demand has surged at Kaiser, the largest non-profit HMO in the nation and the largest healthcare provider in California, the HMO has responded by making patients wait even longer for one-on-one therapy sessions.
Lack of funds isn’t the issue. Kaiser reported an $8.1 billion net profit last year. The HMO has a stunning $54 billion in reserves. Yet Kaiser Permanente refuses to adequately invest in additional staff; take steps to reduce the burnout of current employees; and do what is necessary to bring its mental health clinics into parity with other health services the HMO provides.
In Northern California, Kaiser staffs approximately one full-time equivalent mental health clinician for every 2,600 members. As a result, patients who should receive therapy every week or two weeks are waiting months just to start their therapy regimens, and between four to eight weeks between appointments, in violation of state parity laws and clinical guidelines. Unable to provide ethical care amid unrelenting caseloads, therapists are leaving Kaiser at a record rate.
Kaiser has been fined by state regulators for its lack of mental health care, sued by local prosecutors and is now facing a new state investigation following a sharp rise in patient complaints last year. Kaiser also has failed to comply with a new state law requiring follow-up mental health therapy appointments be provided within 10 business days.
Internal Kaiser documents show that patients who received an initial mental health assessment on June 13 weren’t scheduled for follow-up appointments for a month in San Francisco, more than two months in Sacramento and three months or more in other parts of Northern California.
After a year of contract negotiations in which Kaiser has rejected proposals aimed at increasing staffing and improving access to care, clinicians voted in June to authorize their first ever open-ended strike to compel Kaiser to put an end to its gaping disparity between the care it provides for mental and physical health conditions.
“We’re serving a strike notice because our patients aren’t receiving needed services.” said Shay Loftus, a psychologist in Kaiser’s Napa/Solano region. “We’re not willing to be part of a system that disrespects the work we do and prevents us from providing ethical care. Kaiser has no excuse to continue treating mental health care as a separate and unequal service, and we’re going to keep striking until that changes.”
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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-led movement that represents 16,000 healthcare workers in California and Hawaii, including more than 4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians.