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Kaiser Permanente Mental Health Workers Poised to Strike in NoCal

Analysis  |  By John Commins  
   August 09, 2022

Unionized clinicians in Northern California plan to start picket lines and rallies outside Kaiser facilities throughout the Bay Area and from Sacramento to Fresno.

More than 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians – claiming burnout and frustration from alleged chronic understaffing – are poised to begin an open-ended strike starting on August 15.

"We're serving a strike notice because our patients aren't receiving needed services." Shay Loftus, a psychologist in Kaiser's Napa/Solano region, says in a news release issued by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. "We're not willing to be part of a system that disrespects the work we do and prevents us from providing ethical care. Kaiser has no excuse to continue treating mental healthcare as a separate and unequal service, and we're going to keep striking until that changes," Loftus says.

Unionized psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers in Northern California plan to start picket lines and rallies outside Kaiser facilities throughout the Bay Area and from Sacramento to Fresno.

Money is not the issue, the union says, noting that KP reported an $8.1 billion net profit last year, and they system’s HMO has $54 billion in reserves. The disgruntled clinicians say that in Northern California, Kaiser staffs one fulltime equivalent mental health clinician for every 2,600 members, forcing patients to wait months to begin therapy regimens. As a result of delayed care and a relentless caseload, the union says therapists are leaving Kaiser at a record rate.

Kaiser has been fined by state regulators for its lack of mental healthcare, sued by local prosecutors and is now facing a new state investigation following a sharp rise in patient complaints last year. Kaiser also has failed to comply with a new state law requiring follow-up mental health therapy appointments be provided within 10 business days, the union claims.

NUHW President Sal Rosselli says most of the nation's mental health clinicians are not unionized, which he says is one reason why mental healthcare has not attained parity in services.

"Patients are getting ripped off while Kaiser's coffers are bulging," Rosselli says. "We don't take striking lightly but it's time to take a stand and make Kaiser spend some of its billions on mental healthcare."

After more than one year of negotiations, Rosselli says KP has rejected staffing increases and improved access to care, prompting clinicians in June to authorize their first ever open-ended strike.

'Unethical and Counterproductive'

With the walk out looming, Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at KP, says the health system is "still in active bargaining and are committed to resolving the issues and reaching an agreement."

"It is perplexing that NUHW leaders have chosen to strike when we were close to an agreement," Catsavas says. "In our last bargaining session we were about 1% apart in our respective wage proposals, and we came to bargaining last Friday with hopes to bargain vigorously and bring negotiations to a conclusion. Unfortunately, union leadership delivered a fully new economic proposal from NUHW that avoids reaching agreement and pushes us further apart."

"Despite the unethical and counterproductive tactics by NUHW's leadership, we are committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and equitable agreement that is good for our therapists and our patients," Catsavas says.

“Despite the unethical and counterproductive tactics by NUHW's leadership, we are committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and equitable agreement that is good for our therapists and our patients.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Money is not the issue, the union says, noting that KP reported an $8.1 billion net profit last year, and they system’s HMO has $54 billion in reserves.

The disgruntled clinicians say Kaiser staffs one fulltime equivalent mental health clinician for every 2,600 members, forcing patients to wait months to begin therapy regimens.

Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at KP, says the health system is 'still in active bargaining and are committed to resolving the issues and reaching an agreement.'


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