Request for full-time temporary remote work during 2022 COVID surge

Please sign on to the letter below, asking Kaiser leadership to extend remote work to members during the 2022 COVID surge.

Dr.  Michael Schulman, Physician in Chief
Dr. Emily Porch, Chief of Outpatient Services, Department of Mental Health and Wellness
Shelly Nielsen-Jones, PsyD., Clinical Director, Behavioral Health
Michael Baugnon, PhD, Behavioral Health Manager II, Adult Team Lead Chair, Regional ASM
Sheila Clancy, MPA, Service Director
Melody Keeler, LMFT, Behavioral Health Manager I, Adult Team
Britni Pimental, MFT, Behavioral Health Manager I, Adult Team
Christopher Evans, PsyD, Behavioral Health Manager II, AMRS
Crystal Guevera, PhD, Behavioral Health Manager I, AMRS and Child Team
Heather Dunn, LCSW, Behavioral Health Manager II Manager
Leah Chandler, PhD Behavioral Health Manager II, Clinical Psychologist Child Team


Dear Leadership,

We hope you and your loved ones are well. This letter is to inform you of our concerns regarding the recent COVID surge in our county. In a recent poll (Jan. 5th) of SRO NUHW members, 90% said they would like the option to temporarily return to full time remote work from home due to current COVID rates/risk levels. After further discussion among NUHW members, we are respectfully and strongly requesting that Leadership implement the option of full time temporary remote work for clinicians immediately. We are also requesting that Leadership change department policy to allow clinicians to make the clinical decision of whether an in person or virtual appointment is needed rather than the patient making this decision, and providing us with appropriate PPE of n95 masks and in room HEPA air cleaners. The omicron variant has propelled COVID cases to record levels in the U.S.  The urgency is glaringly obvious:

Per PIC communication Jan 7, 2022:

“COVID Update 

In the US, the 7-day average of daily new cases reached 486,000 on Monday and increased 240% in the past 2 weeks.  The highest peak in prior surges was 294,000 daily cases in January 2021. In California, COVID cases have increased, with a 358% increase in 2 weeks, and are hovering at 30,000 daily cases, roughly half the number reached during last year’s winter surge. Test positivity across the state has also jumped up to 16%. In Sonoma County, the current surge is generating an average of 200 to 300 new infections a day which may be an underestimate because of increasing utilization of the rapid antigen test. The Lagunitas Tap Room and Brewery in Petaluma and The Russian River Brewing Co.’s Windsor pub closed due to employees being out sick with COVID or the flu or isolating because of contact, in addition to ongoing staff shortages.”

Additionally, Petaluma city facilities have closed to the public, Sonoma County Court civil & criminal trials have been postponed, 200 inmates are on lockdown at the Sonoma County Main Jail, & six of the largest Sonoma County homeless shelters have been hit with COVID outbreaks. 

Jan. 5, 2022 The Press Democrat:  “The omicron variant has spread quickly in Sonoma County, with virus transmission surging since mid-December when the rate was 13.9 new daily cases per 100,000 people. According to the county’s latest figures, the rate is now nearly 50 new daily cases per 100,000, approaching last winter’s peak surge.”

Jan 5, 2022 The Press Democrat: “The skyrocketing winter surge of COVID-19 cases in Sonoma County could surpass all previous virus waves since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, local health officials said Wednesday.”

Jan. 9, 2022 The Press Democrat: “On Saturday, county health officials reported a new daily transmission rate of 91.6 cases per 100,000 residents, averaged over the seven-day period ending Jan. 1. On Dec. 26, that rate was about 43 new cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, last year, on Jan. 8, amid the deadliest period of the pandemic, the local infection rate reached a high of 56.5 daily cases per 100,000 people.

The clearer picture of the county’s virus transmission rates came Saturday after public health staff processed an “unprecedented” volume of cases received in the past couple of days, which created a backlog in recording positive cases, Pack said.”

As our team members become ill and are unable to work, it creates a domino effect that results in canceled appointments for initial and secondary intakes and return follow up care. Currently patients are waiting 6 to 8 weeks for a secondary intake on the Child Team and 8 to 9 weeks on the Adult Team. If those appointments are canceled due to clinician illness, the next available will be yet another 6 to 8 weeks out for Child and 8 to 9 weeks out for Adult. Patient access to timely care is severely endangered with just one clinician being ill and having their patient appointments canceled for 1 to 2 weeks while they recover. If only from a business perspective, it seems wise to use an abundance of caution to protect the health of our MH staff in order to prevent further deterioration of patient access to timely initial and follow up appointments which are often 3 to 8 weeks out.  If our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) team members continue to become ill, it is very possible that our Dept. will be in a situation where urgent appointments are not available when needed, causing patients to be escalated into the Emergency Department (ED) for suicide risk/safety evaluations, further congesting an ED that is already over-burdened with current increased Covid rates.  In addition, as our MH team members are realizing that other local health care organizations and/or private practice work can provide them with a safer work environment than KP (remote work full time, employer provided PPE and testing kits), we are at very high risk of continuing to lose staff members in our dept.  The cost of recruiting and onboarding just one clinician alone is yet another business case for seeking to increase the level of actual and perceived protection to our MH team members. We are advocating for our safety, and this will have a direct impact on preserving patient access to timely care and support staff retention. 

Our direct managers have been asking, throughout the pandemic, how they can support us through these challenging times where we as Mental Health care workers are experiencing many of the same stressors & traumas as the families we serve. Giving us the option to work remotely full time would be a way of supporting us and alleviating some of our stress. We, as clinicians, are concerned for our health and the health of our families, patients, and community.  We are also concerned about the long term effects of COVID which are not fully known at this time.  We are requesting Leadership take immediate action to protect us all, including providing us the option to work remotely from home full time, changing department policy to allow clinicians make the clinical decision of whether an in person or virtual appointment is needed rather than the patient making this decision, and providing us with appropriate PPE of n95 masks and in room HEPA air filters. Santa Rosa Community Health and Sonoma County Indian Health Project are providing their mental health care workers with n95 masks and in room HEPA air filters.  They are also providing all staff members with take home covid testing kits and asking them to test 2 to 3 days per week even if asymptomatic in order to prevent further outbreaks among their staff and patients.  

The transition to full time remote work would be seamless, as we all had to contact patients March 2020 to convert their in office appointments to virtual appointments. Since then most patients have preferred virtual care. Furthermore, the data regarding the efficacy of telemental health are overwhelmingly supportive. Per an American Psychological Association article on Jan 1, 2021, “Several studies have already proven telepsychology’s effectiveness. And research from Jeanine Turner, PhD, a professor of communication, culture, and technology at Georgetown University who has followed telehealth’s growth over the past two decades, has shown that both patients and providers who use telehealth generally view it favorably.”

We also respectfully request that during those times that we deem it clinically and ethically necessary to see patients in office, that we continue to be able to utilize the group rooms (in order to safely socially distance especially with families) and have n95 masks & HEPA air filters available. 

Again, we do hope you and your loved ones are well during these challenging times. We appreciate Leadership taking the time to consider our concerns for our health, health of our families and patients. We also greatly appreciate our direct managers listening to our concerns, including our recent LPPC report out meeting on Jan 6, 2022. We are eager to hear your response regarding immediate actions to help protect our community. 


Santa Rosa NUHW members