Press Release: Kaiser mental health clinicians take patient care struggle to LA Metro trains

KaiserJuly 18, 2019

LOS ANGELES — The National Union of Healthcare Workers began running advertisements this week on LA Metro trains calling attention to long waits Kaiser Permanente patients must endure for mental health therapy appointments. The HMO is under state-ordered outside monitoring of its mental health services after three consecutive state surveys found that it failed to provide timely care.

“Kaiser members in Los Angeles need to know that their insurer still isn’t providing the mental health care they are paying for and legally entitled to receive,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “It’s shameful that Kaiser reported a $3.2 billion profit in the first three months of this year, but makes patients in Los Angeles wait months for mental health therapy appointments.”

Nearly 4,000 Kaiser psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses last week overwhelmingly rejected Kaiser’s contract offer, which failed to provide immediate relief for a mental health system plagued by long waits for care, understaffed clinics, and unsustainable patient loads for clinicians.  The clinicians are calling on Kaiser to resume contract negotiations, which Kaiser halted in June after making the proposal that clinicians subsequently rejected.

“Kaiser has not demonstrated any urgency to fix this problem,” said  Elizabeth White, a Kaiser social worker in Los Angeles. “We hope these Metro ads help Kaiser understand that its refusal to treat mental health care seriously is harming its reputation and the lives of countless patients.”

Clinicians are seeking a contract that will significantly boost staffing to reduce appointment wait times, help patients in crisis receive urgent care and allow time for therapists perform patient care duties such as responding to patient calls and emails that too often must be done outside working hours.

Clinicians report that access to mental health care has gotten worse since they held a five-day statewide strike in December. In April, workers went on strike for one day at Kaiser’s Pasadena clinic, where wait times for mental health appointments now exceed three months. Last week, workers went on strike at Kaiser’s San Francisco clinic where chronic understaffing has resulted in the elimination of 70 percent of the clinic’s group therapy programs for children and forced children to wait up to six weeks for their first face-to-face therapy appointment.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-led movement representing 15,000 caregivers including 4,000 Kaiser Permanente psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and other healthcare professionals in California.