NUHW members save thousands of mental health appointments in San Bernardino

NewsDecember 28, 2020

Thanks to the forceful intervention of their stewards, Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians  have halted a dangerous proposal in San Bernardino County.

Kaiser management in San Bernardino informed NUHW on Tuesday, December 15, that they intended to cancel all routine mental health appointments in San Bernardino starting Monday, December 21, to free up NUHW members to help with the COVID-19 surge. Except for patients deemed high-risk, clinicians were to have their schedules cleared for four weeks so they could be reassigned to the Labor Pool or provide support with Emergency Department consultations, crisis calls or Intensive Outpatient Groups.

However, stewards quickly sprung into action. They worked with their organizer to issue a letter to Kaiser making clear that clinicians would not comply because doing so would be detrimental to their patients, most of whom are already waiting six to twelve weeks between treatment appointments. 

In the letter, they also threatened to file complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, CalOSHA and the Department of Managed Health Care.

Vanessa Carrillo, a steward, drafted a letter for members instructing them to inform their managers that every patient on their schedule is high-risk per their clinical judgement and that it would be unethical and detrimental to their patients’ mental health to cancel their appointments.

“We understand there is a COVID-19 surge, but there is also a surge in demand for mental health care,” Carrillo said. “Canceling thousands of mental health appointments would have put our patients — and possibly our licenses — in jeopardy.”

One day after clinicians began informing their managers that all of their patients were high-risk, Kaiser managers backed down and told them that they would keep their appointments. 

Carrillo said that clinicians are willing to work with management to provide the necessary support during the COVID-19 surge, but that any changes must be done collaboratively and with the best interest of patients in mind.

“We understand that we’re facing a crisis, but the best way we can help is to provide our patients with mental health care so they can stay at home and not have their conditions worsen to the point that they have to seek care in a hospital Emergency Department,” Carrillo said.