Remembering Clem Papazian, a leader in Mental Health Awareness

May 6th, 2020

Earlier this year, we lost an indispensable leader in our fight to achieve parity for mental health care. Clem Papazian, a psychiatric social worker at Kaiser Permanente for over 30 years, was killed when a car struck his motorcycle just blocks from his Oakland home.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, we are proud to honor Clem with this video about his life and the impact he had on everyone who was lucky enough to know him.

Clem helped organize Kaiser mental health clinicians. He led the effort to bring them to NUHW, and he was a driving force in making Kaiser workers a powerful force for improving access to mental health care. He believed that his colleagues could change the world and his colleagues believed in him. One wrote, “Clem made everyone feel stronger and more beautiful.”

Clem understood that access to mental health care is a civil rights issue, plain and simple. And he couldn’t sit quietly seeing so many Kaiser patients denied timely care.

With Clem helping lead the way, our nearly 4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians have become pioneers in the struggle to achieve real parity for mental health care. Their strength and determination have forced Kaiser to boost mental health staffing and made elected officials finally get serious about enforcing laws guaranteeing equal access to mental health care.

But Clem knew that we have a long way to go to achieve real parity for mental health care — both at Kaiser and across California. Kaiser patients are still waiting far too long to see their therapists, and the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic is already leaving countless Californians unable to afford the mental health treatment they desperately need.

Unfortunately, Kaiser still has not made mental health a top priority, nor has it agreed to devote the resources necessary to provide mental health care on the same level as its other medical services. During our last round of contract negotiations, Kaiser refused to agree to common sense reform measures including expanding access to crisis care and taking immediate steps to reduce dangerously long wait times for return appointments. It also reneged on a tentative settlement agreement that would have provided mental health clinicians with essentially the same annual wage increases as more than 80,000 other unionized Kaiser workers in California. Kaiser will never be able to achieve true parity without also providing parity for its mental health clinicians.

NUHW clinicians remain ready to work with Kaiser to transform its mental health system into a national model. But if Kaiser still refuses to be a willing partner, our members will continue the fight that Clem helped lead, and they won’t give up until parity for mental healthcare is a reality for everybody in our state and our nation.

In Unity,

Sal Rosselli, President, National Union of Healthcare Workers

Sophia Mendoza, Secretary-Treasurer, National Union of Healthcare Workers