Press Release: Kaiser mental health clinicians authorize open-ended statewide strike

KaiserMay 22, 2019

Four thousand caregivers prepare to strike more than 100 Kaiser clinics and medical facilities across California over the need to improve patient access to mental health care

More than 80 percent of Kaiser Permanente psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses in California have signed petitions authorizing an open-ended strike that could begin in June if no agreement is reached on a new contract that fully staffs clinics so patients no longer have to wait months for mental health appointments.

“We’re ready to work with Kaiser executives to improve mental health care,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents Kaiser clinicians. “But if they insist on continuing to treat mental health patients and clinicians as second-class citizens, they will be facing a massive strike at every clinic in California.”

NUHW members held a five-day statewide strike in December — the largest mental health worker strike in U.S. history — to demand that the HMO end unacceptably long waits for patients to get therapy appointments. Since then, the situation for Kaiser patients and caregivers has deteriorated.

Clinicians at a Kaiser clinic in Pasadena went on strike last month to protest chronic understaffing that forces patients, many of whom have been diagnosed with severe depression, to wait more than three months for therapy appointments. A survey released this month by NUHW found that 71 percent of Kaiser clinicians across California reported that appointment wait times have grown longer over the past two years, with even larger numbers saying that they have to schedule return appointments further into the future than is clinically appropriate. More than 60 percent of clinicians reported that their first available return appointment was more than a month away.

“There is a mental health care crisis at Kaiser Permanente,” said Clement Papazian, a Kaiser psychiatric social worker. “We won’t stop fighting until all Kaiser patients can access the mental health care that they’ve paid to receive.”

Kaiser, which this week reported a $3.2 billion profit during the first three months of 2019, has thus far rejected proposals from clinicians seeking to improve care. The clinicians have proposed measures to increase staffing, shorten wait times and reduce referrals to out-of-network therapists who are often unavailable and cannot coordinate effectively with the rest of the Kaiser system.

Kaiser’s mental health service is currently under a state-ordered outside monitoring program after it was found deficient in three consecutive state surveys and fined $4 million by the California Department of Managed Health Care for violating the state’s Mental Health Parity Act.

NUHW is a member-led union representing 15,000 caregivers including more than 4,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health workers and health care professionals in California and Hawaii.