4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians say they're prepared to walk off job

About 4,000 mental health clinicians at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente facilities are prepared to strike for five days if no contract agreement is reached, the union representing them said this week.

The clinicians — which include psychologists, therapists, social workers and addiction medicine specialists — are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Workers authorized a strike next month to compel Kaiser Permanente to address staffing problems that result in longer patient wait times for mental health therapy appointments, union officials said Nov. 19.

"The workers' three-year contract that expired in September included provisions intended to increase staffing and reduce patients' wait times of up to two months for follow-up appointments," the union said. "However, understaffing and lengthy delays have persisted, forcing many patients to pay out of pocket for non-Kaiser therapists or go without treatment altogether."

Union officials detailed examples of Kaiser being cited for insufficient behavioral health coverage and deficiencies in its mental health services.

John Nelson, vice president of communications at Kaiser Permanente, said progress has been made to improve access to mental healthcare, such as increasing the number of therapists on staff, continuing aggressive hiring efforts, engaging with community-based therapists and investing in locations for mental healthcare.

Mr. Nelson said "this has not been easy" and "we have more to do."

He also expressed support for mental health clinicians.

"We are committed to keeping therapists' market-leading compensation and benefits in place to ensure that we attract and retain the most highly skilled professionals," he told Becker's.

"We are disappointed that NUHW leadership would seek to sidetrack our positive collective progress. We have been in active bargaining with NUHW since the summer, and we encourage union leaders to use the bargaining table as the place to address their proposals. Strikes are not an effective bargaining tactic, and they put patients, members and employees in a difficult situation unnecessarily," Mr. Nelson said.

 

More articles on human capital and risk: 

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