LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Four thousand California caregivers will go on strike on June 11th and stay on strike “until Kaiser brings immediate relief to patients who must wait at least a month or more for mental health appointments,” their union announced today.
The strike will be “open-ended” and affect more than 100 Kaiser clinics and medical facilities throughout the state, said a statement issued by the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
“Confronted with a growing crisis of patients, who cannot receive timely mental health care, 4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians and healthcare professionals will strike starting on June 11 and remain on picket lines until an agreement is reached to immediately improve access to care,” the union said in a statement. The following day, hundreds of strikers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, will converge on Sacramento for a Mental Health Parity rally outside the State Capitol Building, it said.
“We can’t wait any longer to fix this problem,” said Alicia Cruz, a Kaiser therapist. “I work with young people who are suicidal and self-harming, and our group sessions are so crowded that children and their parents have to sit on the floor. We just don’t have the resources at our clinic to provide the services these people need, and Kaiser isn’t doing anything about it.”
Four thousand Kaiser psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and addiction medicine specialists and other medical professionals will stage pickets outside dozens of Kaiser facilities from San Diego to Sacramento during the strike.
NUHW members staged a five-day statewide strike in December — “the largest mental health worker strike in U.S. history” — to demand that the HMO end unacceptably long waits for patients to get therapy appointments. Since then, the situation for Kaiser patients and caregivers has deteriorated.
In April, workers struck a Kaiser clinic where patients with severe mental health conditions routinely have to wait more than three months to see their therapists.
A survey released last month by NUHW found that 71 percent of Kaiser clinicians across California reported that appointment wait times have grown longer over the past two years, with even larger numbers saying that they have to schedule return appointments further into the future than is clinically appropriate. More than 60% of clinicians reported that their first available return appointment was more than a month away.
Kaiser’s mental health service is currently under state-ordered outside monitoring after it was found deficient in three consecutive state surveys and fined $4 million by the California Department of Managed Health Care for violating the state’s Mental Health Parity Act, according to the statement.
“Kaiser has ignored this problem for so long that it has created a full-blown crisis,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “Our members remain ready to collaborate on solutions that will bring immediate relief to overburdened clinicians and under-served patients, but right now Kaiser still isn’t treating mental health care as a top priority.”
Kaiser, which last month reported a $3.2 billion profit during the first three months of 2019, has rejected proposals from clinicians seeking to improve care and reverse years of economic discrimination. The clinicians have proposed measures to increase staffing, shorten wait times and reduce referrals to out-of-network therapists who are often unavailable and cannot coordinate effectively with the rest of the Kaiser system.
They have also proposed the same salary adjustments and benefits that Kaiser provided to other union workers but denied clinicians for years as retaliation for blowing the whistle on the HMO’s mental health care violations.
Kaiser’s management did not immediately respond to the union’s announcement.