OAKLAND— As many as 4,000 mental health clinicians are expected to go on a five-day strike starting Monday next week at up to 100 Kaiser Permanente clinics and mental health services throughout the state.
Locally, the psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses and other healthcare workers plan to walk out of Kaiser locations in Oakland, Walnut Creek, Redwood City, Santa Clara and San Jose after their union and the health care organization failed to reach a new contract.
The workers want Kaiser to fix its “broken” mental health system, where patients wait months for appointments and therapists are overwhelmed by large caseloads, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
The union warns on its website that mental health patients are endangered when they have to wait so long to be treated. In a testimonial on the website, parent Rachel Portland says her troubled son took his own life days before his appointment, which would have come 29 days after his intake interview.
The union had called for a five-day strike to be held early last month but postponed it when Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson unexpectedly died.
On Monday, there will be a picket line at the Santa Clara Medical Center and Tantau Clinic and the San Francisco Medical Center.
On Tuesday, picket lines are expected at the Oakland Medical Center, with a march to Kaiser headquarters with a rally at noon.
Michelle Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president of hospital and health plan operations for Kaiser Northern California, said patients should know hospitals and medical offices will remain open, although because of the strike some appointments might need to be rescheduled.
She said Kaiser and the union have been working with a mediator but the union rejected a proposed compromise.
“This is NUHW’s sixth noticed strike within a single year. We believe that NUHW’s repeated call for short strikes is disruptive to patient access, operational care and service and is frankly irresponsible,” Gaskill-Hames said in a statement to this news organization.
She said a strike does nothing to advance care or produce a contract.
“All it does is put our members in the middle of bargaining, which is not fair to them, especially during the holidays when rates of depression can spike and our patients are counting on their caregivers to be there,” Gaskill-Hames said.
According to the union, Kaiser has been fined millions and was placed under state-ordered monitoring after repeat violations of the state’s mental health parity laws.
Workers maintain that Kaiser mental health clinics are severely understaffed and patients are routinely forced to wait up to eight weeks for a therapy appointment. Some clinicians work after hours to fit patients in.
“A patient completing an intake appointment at my clinic today would have to wait until late March for a return appointment,” Vicki Hoskins, a Kaiser therapist in Orange County, said in a written statement.
“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.”
Kaiser clinicians held a similar five-day strike last December. Since then, Kaiser has unlawfully demanded that clinicians drop unfair labor practice complaints as as part of a settlement proposal, according to the union.
Workers want a 3% raise and the mediator recommended 2.75% with a .25% lump sum, union spokesman Matthew Artz said Friday.
Although both sides have agreed to collaborate in reinventing Kaiser’s mental health system, the union says clinicians also want safeguards for improved patient care to be written into a contract. Those items include more time to respond to calls and emails from patients they cant see and crisis services in every clinic so patients don’t have to be unnecessarily hospitalized.