Kaiser Mental Health Workers Begin Strike in Northern California on Monday

More than 2,000 Kaiser mental health workers in northern California had planned to go on an unrestricted strike Monday after the health-care giant rejected union proposals over the weekend, union officials said. .

Officials from the National Alliance of Health Professionals, who represent clinicians, announced the strike plan earlier this month. Reasons include a high workload of patients seeking treatment and excessive waiting times (weeks or months, according to union officials).

On Thursday, unions accused Kaiser officials of illegally canceling or suspending mental and behavioral health services because of the strike. , should provide patients with timely medical care.

Kaiser officials have disputed the accusations, saying treatment will be provided to patients through non-striking clinicians and out-of-network providers.

The union said it was proceeding with a Monday morning strike. That’s because Kaiser officials rejected a proposal by union members during Saturday’s negotiations to increase staffing and “end dangerously long wait times for mental health treatment appointments,” he said.

Hospital workers in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Fresno were scheduled to join the strike, union officials said.

“I see patients every four to six weeks, and they don’t see them very often,” said Michael Torres, a psychologist at San Leandro Medical Center. continues to suffer from severe psychiatric symptoms.

Torres noted that research shows that the pandemic is exacerbating mental health problems for people, especially children, and increasing demand for services. We are striking for the rights of young people who deserve best practice standards,” he said.

He said long patient wait times are an ongoing problem at Kaiser due to the hordes of clinicians leaving hospitals in Northern California.

“Today, you can’t hire people as quickly as they retire,” says Torres.

But Kaiser officials said in a statement Sunday that the shortage of mental health workers is a national problem.

Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said the hospital has employed nearly 200 clinicians since January 2021 and has improved access to patients through virtual visits. . Catsavas said he launched a $500,000 initiative for the hospital to recruit new clinicians.

“Despite all that we do, we, like everyone else, are being challenged to meet demand, and we know we have to do more. , is focused on continuing to find new ways to meet the mental health needs of our members and patients,” said Catsavas.

She criticized the union’s strike plans, saying that over the past 12 years the union “has used the threat of a strike as a bargaining tactic in every contract negotiation.”

Catsavas said hospitals are ready to meet the mental health needs of their patients in the face of the strike scheduled for Monday.

“We remain committed to negotiating in good faith to reach fair and equitable agreements that are good for therapists and patients,” said Catsavas.

Jessica Flores (she/her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @jessmflores

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