Press release: 4,000 Mental health clinicians to strike Kaiser Permanente facilities across California for five days beginning Monday, December 16
Strike had been postponed following last month’s sudden passing of Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson
[See the December 16 press release here.]
Four thousand psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses and other healthcare professionals are striking Kaiser Permanente facilities across California Dec. 16 – 20 to demand that the HMO demonstrate good faith and fix its broken mental health system that leaves patients waiting months for appointments and therapists overwhelmed with crushing caseloads.
The strike by members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers will potentially shut down mental health services at more than 100 Kaiser clinics and medical facilities from San Diego to Sacramento.
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.
“Mental health has been underserved and overlooked by the Kaiser system for too long,” said Ken Rogers, a Kaiser psychologist. “We’re ready to work with Kaiser to create a new model for mental health care that doesn’t force patients to wait two months for appointments and leave clinicians with unsustainable caseloads. But Kaiser needs to show that it’s committed to fixing its system and treating patients and caregivers fairly.”
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 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.
Kaiser clinicians, who have been working without a contract for over a year, held a five-day statewide strike last December. 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:
- Allowing therapists to immediately begin scheduling more return appointments in order to reduce their patients’ often dangerously long appointment wait times for conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. 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.
- Sufficient time for clinicians to do all of their critical patient care duties including charting their patients’ clinical encounters, communicating with social service agencies, and responding to their patients’ emails and phone calls, and care coordination.
- Establishing adequate crisis services in every service area. Too often patients are unnecessarily hospitalized because they can’t get walk-in services at Kaiser’s mental health clinics when they experience a crisis. Furthermore, this proposal would avoid clinicians having to cancel appointments with patients who have waited months to be seen in order to treat patients in crisis.
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.
“How can we trust Kaiser to work with us to fix its mental health care system when it refuses to agree to basic patient care improvements and insists on singling us out for poorer benefits,” said Deborah Silverman, a Kaiser social worker. “We’re going to keep fighting until Kaiser finally treats mental health care with the same commitment and urgency as all of its other services.”