Press release: Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians to kick-off 5-day strike Monday throughout California
Despite repeated violations of California Mental Health Parity Act, Kaiser has rejected proposals to improve access to care
Four thousand psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses, and other healthcare professionals are striking Kaiser Permanente facilities across California December 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 unsustainable caseloads.
“A patient completing an intake appointment at my clinic today would have to wait until late March for a return appointment,” said Vicki Hoskins, a Kaiser therapist in Orange County, where the medical giant has admitted failing to meet state timely access standards. “We can’t provide good therapy if we can’t see our patients. This strike is about compelling Kaiser to finally make mental health care a real priority and not just the centerpiece of a public relations campaign.”
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.
Picket lines will run from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Monday, clinicians will be picketing the following locations:
Bakersfield Medical Center, 8800 Ming Ave.
Anaheim Medical Center, 3440 E. La Palma Ave.
Fontana Medical Center, 9961 Sierra Ave.
San Diego Medical Center, 9455 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
South Bay Medical Center, S. Vermont Street, Harbor City
Panorama City Medical Center, 13651 Willard St.
Fresno Medical Center, 7300 N. Fresno St.
Sacramento Medical Center, 2025 Morse Ave.
San Francisco Medical Center, 2425 Geary Blvd.
Santa Clara Medical Center and Tantau Clinic, 700/710 Lawrence Expressway (Medical Center) 19000 Homestead Road, Cupertino (Clinic)
Click here for a full schedule of picket locations and contact information for psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and addiction medicine specialists available for interviews.
Over the past year, more than 1,300 Kaiser patients have recounted their struggles to access mental health care at the website KaiserDontDeny.org, and several of them will attend rallies next week.
“I could barely get a bowl of cereal into my body when I was depressed,” said Jeanette Zolinger, a Kaiser patient in Newbury Park, Calif., who had to pay $150 per session for a non Kaiser therapist because she couldn’t get the care she needed through Kaiser. “Weekly therapy literally saved my life. When you’re that unwell, motivation is the hardest thing to pull out of yourself. Fighting a Kaiser mental health system that fights you back when you ask for help is impossible. It shouldn’t be that hard.”
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.
In a survey conducted earlier this year, 77 percent 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 more than 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 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.
Immediate measures to improve access to return appointments by adopting a ratio of 5 return appointments for every new appointment without delay.
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.
“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.”