Press Release: Kaiser Permanente therapists to strike Wednesday over worsening mental health care for San Francisco children

July 9th, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO — Kaiser mental health clinicians will go on strike for one day, Wednesday, July 10, to protest worsening access to mental health care for San Francisco children. The workers, who include psychologists, therapists and social workers, have been demanding increased staffing to halt the rapid decline in available services and reduce dangerously long waits for available appointments, but Kaiser has repeatedly ignored their requests.

“I’ve never worked in a clinic like this where I have to apologize to my patients for the lack of available services,” said Chaya Rivka Mayerson, a psychologist who has worked at the clinic for seven years. “My co-workers have been fighting for so long to create awareness about the struggles our patients face, but it seems like Kaiser management doesn’t care about these children.”

WHAT: One-day strike by more than 60 Kaiser mental health clinicians who treat both children and adults at Kaiser’s only mental health clinic in San Francisco

WHEN: Picket lines will run from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 10

WHERE: Kaiser San Francisco mental health clinic, 4141 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco

While Kaiser mental health clinics are understaffed across California, the HMO’s lone San Francisco clinic has reached a breaking point as staffing levels have declined while demand for care continues to increase. Children, many of whom are dealing with severe depression, now typically have to wait four to six weeks for their first face-to-face visit with a Kaiser mental health therapist — and just as long or longer for a return appointment.

Staffing reductions have forced the clinic to eliminate 70 percent of its group therapy programs. Group therapy sessions for children who are contemplating suicide have become so crowded that some children and their parents have to sit on the floor because there aren’t enough therapists to provide individual therapy. Kaiser’s San Francisco clinic currently staffs just one full-time equivalent mental health clinician for every 4,300 children with Kaiser health coverage in the city. Kaiser has just one part-time child eating disorder specialist for the entire city.

“I’m just not able to give these kids the full care they need,” said Sarah Phillips, the clinic’s eating disorder specialist who is resigning because of her disappointment with management’s refusal to address chronic understaffing.

For more than a year, mental health clinicians represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers have filed grievances against Kaiser and written letters to managers urging them to take action to improve care. Prior to authorizing a one-day strike, the workers called on Kaiser to boost staffing and bolster its eating disorder program, but Kaiser has ignored their request. Last month, NUHW filed a complaint with the California Department of Managed Health Care demanding an investigation into understaffing at the San Francisco clinic.

While Kaiser has refused to increase mental health staffing, it has announced the development of a new $900 million headquarters and agreed to pay the Golden State Warriors up to $295 million in a sponsorship deal that includes naming the area outside the team’s new arena “Thrive City.”

“Kaiser executives need to reverse their priorities,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “They’re spending billions of dollars on buildings and branding deals, but they won’t spend a fraction of that to help kids get care that could save their lives.”

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-driven union that represents more than 15,000 caregivers in California and Hawaii.