Four thousand mental health clinicians are striking Kaiser Permanente facilities Monday through Friday, Dec. 14, including the managed healthcare company’s Anaheim Medical Center.
Caregivers represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers are demanding that Kaiser honor a pledge to fix understaffing issues that force patients to wait a month or more for therapy appointments.
“Access to mental health care is a civil rights issue,” says NUHW President Sal Rosselli. “This strike is a clear message to Kaiser that its mental health clinicians won’t stand by silently while their patients can’t get the care they need.”
Kaiser Permanente officials have characterized the strike as unnecessary and a bargaining tactic.
The pickets are set to run 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. with lunchtime rallies at the medical center, 3440 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, as well as more than 100 Kaiser clinics and medical facilities from San Diego to Sacramento.
The California Nurses Association and Stationary Engineers, Local 39 have provided strike sanction, which allows their roughly 20,000 members at Kaiser medical facilities to strike in sympathy without fear of reprisal from the HMO.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-Rhode Island), who founded The Kennedy Forum, a leading mental health advocacy organization, is scheduled to join picket lines Monday in San Francisco and Tuesday in Oakland.
“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recently reported that life expectancy has dropped yet again due to rising numbers of overdoses and suicides,” says Kennedy in a NUHW statement. “Timely access to care is critical. Insurers who subject those with mental health and substance use disorders to a separate and unequal system of care must be held accountable.”
Kaiser is currently subject to state-ordered outside monitoring of its mental health services following three consecutive California surveys that found the HMO was failing to provide its patients with timely access to mental health services in violation of state law.
Clinicians want more authority to apply their professional judgement to treatment decisions, including the frequency of appointments and whether individual or group therapy is indicated, according to NUHW, which adds that in Southern California, its members want Kaiser to stop sending one-third of patients–or 40,000 people per year–to firms that contract with private therapists, who are not accountable to Kaiser and often don’t have access to patient medical records.
The NUHW’s beef with Kaiser over mental health care dates back to 2015.
“We have not seen any meaningful improvements,” says Clem Papazian, a Kaiser licensed clinical social worker, in the NUHW release. “Clinicians are booked solid for weeks and patients are waiting far too long for therapy appointments. This is an untenable situation that should have ended years ago. We still want to work with Kaiser to solve this problem, but first Kaiser has to be willing to use its immense resources to truly help its patients seeking mental health treatment.”
The NUHW cites figures showing Kaiser earned a $3.8 billion profit last year and a $2.9 billion profit in the first nine months of 2018.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.