About 4,000 unionized mental health clinicians from Kaiser Permanente in California are planning to strike beginning Dec. 10 to protest the health care provider’s alleged substandard quality of mental health care services.
The strike is set to begin statewide on Monday, Dec. 10, and include Kaiser’s North Bay facilities in Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Vallejo and Vacaville beginning Tuesday, according to a National Union of Healthcare Workers press release on Nov. 29. The strike pertains only to Kaiser’s mental health services.
According to the union, since contract bargaining talks began in June, Kaiser has rejected its mental health clinicians’ proposals to boost staffing to end long waits for therapy appointments.
Kaiser responded in a Dec. 2 statement that it was “disappointed” with the union’s plan “when we’ve been in active negotiations since the summer, having met in 16 bargaining sessions over 5 months, and with two more bargaining sessions scheduled (the week of Dec. 3). ... The union’s principal demands at the bargaining table have not been about improving care and access, but are about gaining even higher wages and benefits and demanding changes to performance standards that would reduce, not increase, the availability of mental health care for our members.”
Sal Rosselli, NUHW president, said in the union’s statement, “We remain ready to work with Kaiser to fix its mental health system, but it’s time for Kaiser to use its vast resources to make meaningful improvements for patients. Walking a picket line for five days is a small sacrifice compared to our patients’ burden of waiting weeks for care that they paid for, at times desperately need, and have every right to receive.”
Kaiser said its teams have plans in place to deliver care and services to its members if the strike takes place as planned.
The pending strike over Kaiser’s quality of mental health care services is the latest in years-long accusations, negotiations and agreements involving Kaiser’s mental health services, the union and the state’s Department of Managed Care.
In July 2017, the DMHC and Kaiser reached an agreement that Kaiser would correct identified issues about the oversight of, and access to, its behavioral health services, according to a statement by the DMHC.
In 2013, the DMHC fined Kaiser $4 million for violating the state’s Mental Health Parity Act and Timely Access to Care standards. Kaiser paid the fine in 2014, but did not concede any wrongdoing.
Kaiser said in its Dec. 2 statement that its contract proposal offers guaranteed wage increases, which would keep its therapists among the best compensated in their profession. It also said it has increased the number of therapists on staff by 30 percent since 2015, despite an ongoing, nationwide shortage of mental health professionals.
“In addition to adding staff, we have invested more than $175 million to build new care sites and refurbish others, all with the goal of providing high-quality mental health care in an environment that offers our patients convenience, comfort and privacy,” according to Kaiser’s statement.
The DMHC said on Dec. 4 that it “continues to monitor this matter.”
Number of mental health clinicians at Kaiser facilities in the North Bay
Santa Rosa Medical Center: 86
Vallejo Medical Center: 76
Vacaville Medical Center: 54
San Rafael Medical Center: 41
Petaluma Medical offices: 10
Fairfield Medical offices: 3
Napa Medical offices: 3
Source: National Union of Healthcare Workers