- About 4,000 mental health professionals at Kaiser Permanente have rescheduled a five-day strike that was initially postponed following the unexpected death of the not-for-profit's CEO Bernard Tyson last month.
- The strike over alleged barriers to patients receiving mental and behavioral health treatment could potentially shut down services at more than 100 Kaiser mental health clinics if a contract agreement is not reached. It's now planned to run Dec. 16 to Dec. 20, the union representing the psychologists, mental health therapists and other workers announced Wednesday.
- The National Union of Healthcare Workers has been in discussions with the Oakland, California-based integrated health system over contracts for about a year. Union members also held a five-day strike last December over similar concerns.
Tyson died Nov. 10, a day before the union workers were scheduled to strike. Workers announced a postponement, but are now ready to get back to the dispute.
According to the system's mental health workers, patients are experiencing unsustainable wait times for therapy appointments and other barriers to receiving needed mental healthcare, and therapists are managing a "crushing" number of caseloads.
"Mental health has been underserved and overlooked by the Kaiser system for too long," Ken Rogers, a Kaiser psychologist, said Wednesday. "We're ready to work with Kaiser to create a new model for mental health care that doesn't force patients to wait two months for appointments and leave clinicians with unsustainable caseloads."
According a statement Dennis Dabney, Kaiser's SVP of the National Labor Relations and the Office of Labor Management Partnership, gave Becker's Hospital Review, key sticking points in contract negotiation include pay raises and therapists' administrative time in Northern California, along with retirement benefits in Southern California.
The California Public Employees Retirement System, the largest purchaser of health coverage in California and Kaiser's biggest customer, held a hearing late last month digging into Kaiser's compliance with the state's Mental Health Parity Act.
"At Kaiser clinics across the state we are routinely unable to deliver timely clinically appropriate care," Sarah Soroken, a Kaiser-employed therapist in the Bay Area, testified in front of CalPERS' Pension and Health Benefits Committee. Soroken said her patients typically had to wait one month or more for needed psychotherapy due to Kaiser understaffing in mental health services.
Kaiser is no stranger to testy labor relations. The system, which raked in $1.2 billion in net income in the third quarter of this year, has faced many accusations that it's operating like a for-profit and not investing enough back into the community to justify its nonprofit status.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions successfully bargained with the system in September, receiving guaranteed wage increases for some 85,000 unionized Kaiser employees along with educational and training and other benefits. In return, the influential union called off a planned October strike that would have been one of the nation's largest in the last two decades.
Also in September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a bill into law forcing Kaiser to be more transparent within its financial disclosures, including breaking down expenses and revenue on a per-facility basis, revenue by type of payer and rate increases by type of medical service provided starting in 2020.