Kaiser mental health workers rally in East Bay for better access to care

Bay Area

OAKLAND (KRON) – Some Kaiser mental health workers will rally and strike around the Bay Area Tuesday to demand better access to care.

“Kaiser Permanente has given its Northern California mental health clinicians an ultimatum: Agree by today to the same substandard contract that 92% of them voted to reject two months ago, or lost a 3% pay increase,” according to a statement from the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

The statement added that Kaiser mental health clinicians have worked without a contract since Oct. 2018.

Kaiser psychologists, therapists, and social workers will take to the Oakland streets where the Kaiser executive officers are located starting at 6 a.m. to demand Kaiser’s executives return to the bargaining table.

There will also be a one-day strike at Kaiser’s Pleasanton clinic on Stoneridge Drive from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“After voting overwhelmingly to reject Kaiser’s offer in June of this year, clinicians offered a counter-proposal that would have ensured the hiring of additional full-time clinicians to significantly reduce appointment wait times, established crisis services at every clinic and provided clinicians sufficient time to conduct critical patient care work including following up on referrals, responding to patient calls and emails and communicating with social service agencies,” the statement continued. “Kaiser rejected this offer. “

In a union survey conducted earlier this year, 71% of Kaiser clinicians reported that wait times for treatment appointments have grown longer over the past two years, with more than 75% of respondents saying they needed to schedule patients’ return appointments “further into the future than is clinically appropriate.”

In regards to Tuesday’s strike, Kaiser Permanente released a statement saying that they have bargained with workers for more than a year and are committed to finding a solution.

Here is Kaiser Permanente’s full statement:

Kaiser Permanente has been in bargaining with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) for over a year, and we have presented a proposal to the union that will keep our therapists the best compensated in California, increase the number of therapists, and make more time in therapists’ schedules to see patients. It is disappointing that once again, as a bargaining tactic, the leadership of the NUHW is calling on our mental health therapists to walk away from their patients. 
 
It is important to know that this is a one-day strike at one medical office, and that all of our medical centers in Northern California are open and operating as usual.

Kaiser Permanente is committed to finding solutions and creating a model for mental health care that meets the growing demand for mental health care and responds to the shortage of qualified professionals.  This is a challenge facing all health care providers in the country, not just Kaiser Permanente. 

The union is mischaracterizing Kaiser Permanente’s offer, which includes a 3% salary increase forthe first year of the agreement; plus, in years two and three, therapists will receive an increase of 2.75% to their base salary and an additional 0.25% cash payment. To reflect our interest in moving forward to an agreement, we also offered to make the wage increase retroactive to September 30, 2018 if our proposal was accepted by Sept. 16.  Otherwise, the annual wage increases would be effective with the date of a new contract agreement, which is the more traditional approach to timing. The union did not respond to this additional offer. 

Kaiser Permanente is committed to finding solutions and creating a model for mental health care that meets the growing demand for mental health care and responds to the shortage of qualified professionals.  This is a challenge facing all health care providers in the country, not just Kaiser Permanente. 

Even though the union has not agreed to a new contract, we have informed them we are moving forward on key initiatives around staffing and workforce development, because that is the right thing to do for our patients and therapists. We are hiring more than 300 new therapists, investing $50 million to expand post-graduate training programs and subsidize tuition for 1,000 students to train for mental health positions, and investing more than $700 million to expand and open new mental health facilities. We urge NUHW leaders to work constructively to propose a path forward, so we can work together with our therapists on the critically important work that lies ahead.

Guy Qvistgaard, MS, MFT, Senior Vice President and Area Manager for Kaiser Permanente’s Diablo Service Area

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