Kaiser mental health patients to rally outside Oakland HQ, demand meeting with CEO

Mental health patients — who include the families of suicide victims — plan to come together April 17 outside Kaiser Permanente headquarters in Oakland, Calif., to voice care concerns and demand a face-to-face meeting with chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

"They want to help him understand how Kaiser failed them and their families and what must be done to fix Kaiser’s notorious mental health program. Tyson has ignored their initial letter from two weeks ago, requesting a response by April 15," union leaders said.

The patients claim understaffing at Kaiser has in some cases led to monthslong waits for therapy appointments. On Dec. 14, Kaiser mental health clinicians ended a five-day strike to call attention to the issue and demand better care access. Union leaders said Kaiser executives rejected their proposals.

"We find it unconscionable that NUHW’s leadership would misdirect the grief and sorrow around suicide and capitalize on personal tragedy as leverage during contract bargaining," John Nelson, vice president of communications at Kaiser, said in a statement to Becker's.

Mr. Nelson said Kaiser has increased the number of therapists by 30 percent since 2015 and invested $175 million to expand mental healthcare offices. 

Union demands during negotiations "have not been about improving care and access" and include changes "that would reduce, not increase, the availability of mental healthcare for our patients," he said.

More bargaining sessions are scheduled this month.

Meanwhile, Kaiser is reaching out by phone to families and offering to meet with them so leaders in mental health and healthcare operations can listen and learn from them, said Mr. Nelson. Mr. Tyson has also personally extended that offer to the family of teenager Elizabeth Brown, who died by suicide.

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 16 to include new comments from Kaiser.

More articles on human capital and risk: 

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