Psychiatric workers at Kaiser Permanente locations across Northern California quit their jobs on Monday after a year of contract negotiations.
More than 2,000 therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers, represented by the National Union of Health Workers, have been working without a contract since September. Trading started in July 2021.
No further talks are planned, according to Kaiser Permanente spokesman Steve Shivinsky. “Kaiser Permanente has made it clear that we are ready to meet with the union at any time and will continue to negotiate in good faith. Our goal is to reach a fair and equitable agreement and end this strike and our negotiations,” he wrote in an email.
Union members began an indefinite strike with pickets in Fresno, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose. They allege Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente is violating state parity laws that ensure patients can contact mental health providers in a timely manner and want the not-for-profit integrated health system to hire more staff. California law requires patients to have an initial appointment within 10 days and follow-up appointments 10 days after that.
“We cannot, in good conscience, agree to a proposal that does not fundamentally change Kaiser’s approach to mental health,” Chelsea Wise-Diangson, a Santa Clara therapist, said in a press release. “The health of our patients and our professional ethics are at stake. We need Kaiser to provide us with enough staff and resources to help our patients recover, just like they do for healthcare providers.”
The health care system has hired hundreds of new mental health workers, including nearly 200 since January 2021, and launched a $500,000 recruitment initiative to attract employees, Deb Katsawas, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said in a statement. . “There are not enough mental health professionals across the country to meet the increased demand for care,” she said. “Despite everything we do, we, like others, strive to meet demand and know that more needs to be done.”
During the shutdown, some non-strike mental health workers will receive patients like other medical workers, Katsavas said. According to her, some non-urgent meetings may be rescheduled.
The California Department of Managed Healthcare is conducting a “non-routine survey” of Kaiser Permanente mental health services in response to a surge in consumer complaints, Director Mary Watanabe said in the California Senate last week.