Kaiser mental healthcare worker strike enters 9th day

Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers are set to begin the ninth day of their open-ended strike Aug. 23 at Kaiser Permanente's mental healthcare facilities in California.

The union represents about 4,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians in California, including more than 2,000 psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists and addiction medicine counselors in Kaiser's Northern California region, according to the union website. The National Union of Healthcare Workers has about 16,000 members total in California and Hawaii.

Kaiser mental health clinicians voted in June to authorize a strike. They began an open-ended strike Aug. 15 at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California. Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers are also set to begin an open-ended strike Aug. 29 at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente's mental healthcare facilities in Hawaii.

During the strike in California, Kaiser has "worked to ensure that we are able to meet our members' mental health needs," Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said in an Aug. 19 statement shared with Becker's

"Half of our patients receive their care from mental health community providers who are not involved with the strike. We continue to reach out to every patient whose appointment with an internal provider is affected to offer another internal care provider or a provider from our network of contracted community providers. For those patients who choose to cancel their own appointment or not to reschedule, we have a clinical quality review process in place to ensure they receive the care they need."

The union contends Kaiser has a poor track record on mental health, has failed to adequately boost staffing amid surging demand for mental healthcare and lacks sufficient external providers to offset understaffing. "Kaiser clinicians [in Northern California] have been without a contract since last September. They are seeking a contract that addresses understaffing and unmanageable workloads, which have resulted in record turnover and long waits for therapy sessions that violate state law," the union's website reads. Among the provisions in the union's proposal are up to an additional 30 minutes daily to perform patient care tasks outside of face-to-face appointments, as well as setting a ratio of one appointment for a new patient for every six appointments with returning patients.

"Our patients cannot afford a proposal that significantly reduces the time available to care for our patients and their mental health needs," Ms. Catsavas said.

For a full schedule of picket times and locations through Aug. 26, click here

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