Press release: Kaiser Mental Health Care Strike enters second day

KaiserDecember 17, 2019

Kaiser therapists from across California to converge on Oakland and Los Angeles for rallies and a march on Kaiser corporate headquarters

After picketing nearly a dozen Kaiser Permanente facilities Monday from San Diego to Sacramento, striking Kaiser psychologists, social workers and other healthcare professionals are streaming to Oakland and Los Angeles Tuesday for large-scale rallies.

Charter buses will carry hundreds of workers from around the state to the following locations:

  • Oakland Medical Center, 3600 Broadway

  • Los Angeles Medical Center, 4867 W. Sunset Blvd.

Picketing will begin at 6 a.m. Tuesday in both Oakland and Los Angeles and conclude at 2 p.m. In Los Angeles, the rally is scheduled for 12 p.m. outside Kaiser’s medical center.

In Oakland, therapists will march more than a mile through city streets after 10 a.m. from the Kaiser medical center on Broadway to Kaiser corporate headquarters (Ordway Building) at 1 Kaiser Plaza. They will then hold a noon rally outside Kaiser headquarters.

As a report in Monday’s Los Angeles Times revealed, Kaiser is still failing to provide timely, adequate mental health care for which it has been fined and repeatedly cited by state regulators.

“Kaiser wants people to believe it’s finally achieving parity for mental health care when in reality patients are still waiting far too long for appointments and we are struggling with caseloads that would never be acceptable anywhere outside of Kaiser,” said Mickey Fitzpatrick a Kaiser psychologist in Pleasanton. “We’re marching to Kaiser headquarters to confront Kaiser executives with the truth about their mental health care system.”

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.

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.