Kaiser Permanente's 2,600 mental health workers begin strike

Psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses and social workers affiliated with Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente walked out Monday, beginning a weeklong strike to protest what they consider insufficient staffing.

Clinicians, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, began picketing today at Kaiser facilities across California, according to a U-T San Diego report.

A Kaiser spokesperson said the system is "open for business" and strikes have "not impacted our mental services for emergent and urgent care whatsoever," according to the report.

NUHW says the strike is in response to "Kaiser's chronic failure to provide its members with timely, quality mental healthcare." More specifically, the union claims Kaiser does not staff its psychiatry departments with enough clinicians to treat the growing number of patients seeking care.

In the U-T San Diego report, some striking clinicians expressed their embarrassment when they "have to tell a patient they will have to wait a month or more to come back for another session." They expressed concern that this impedes patients' progress and puts them at risk, particularly those who are suicidal.

A Kaiser spokesperson told the U-T that there is quick access for anyone experiencing a crisis, and follow-up appointments can be scheduled within 2-6 weeks. Kaiser officials also said contract negotiations with NUHW are ongoing.

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