- More than 2,000 mental health clinicians at Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California said they plan to start an open-ended strike Aug. 15, according to a release the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the union representing them.
- Among demands their demands include increased staffing to expand access to behavioral health services for patients and more manageable caseloads to provide more adequate care in new contracts, according to the union.
- The two sides have been in contract negotiations for over a year and were near an agreement, according to an email statement from Kaiser. The system has contingency plans in place if the strike does occur.
Planned strikers include psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers who say they’re stretched too thin and unable to provide adequate care to patients with mental health conditions.
Despite increased demand for those services amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaiser staffs about one full-time equivalent mental health clinician for every 2,600 members in Northern California, according to the union.
Some patients have had to wait weeks or even months for mental health services as a result, according to the union and reports from the Sacramento Bee.
Clinicians planning to strike are doing so “to compel Kaiser to put an end to its gaping disparity between the care it provides for mental and physical health conditions,” the union said in the release.
The system said the union has used this bargaining tactic before, and has called a strike every time the two sides have negotiated new contracts over the past 12 years, according to an email statement.
The two sides have made progress in reaching a deal and were about 1% apart on respective wage proposals during a bargaining session Friday, according to Kaiser.
“It is perplexing that NUHW leaders have chosen to strike when we were close to an agreement,” Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente, said in an email statement.
The clinicians and system will continue negotiations in hopes of reaching a deal before the planned work stoppage.