Mental health workers picket Kaiser

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SAN DIEGO – Dozens of mental health staffers picketed in front of the Kaiser Permanente hospital on Zion Avenue Monday morning to protest what they claim are unfair labor practices by the Kaiser healthcare system.

The informational picket at the Grantville hospital was part of a week-long statewide action organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents psychologists, psychiatric social workers, nurses, therapists and other mental health workers at Kaiser.

Kaiser has seen a large increase in mental health patients because of Obamacare, but the provider has not increased the mental health staff sufficiently to handle the new case load, psychiatric therapist Jim Clifford, told Fox 5 News. As a result of the low staffing, patients are having to wait for a month or more to schedule appointments, Clifford said.

“We want Kaiser to increase staffing so we can see patients on a more frequent basis,” Clifford said.

Mark Winterman, a mental health worker, expressed his concern about patient care at Kaiser over the past four years.

“The staffing has just become woefully in adequate and our patients are having to wait 6 to 8 weeks to deal with really serious issues like depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” Winterman said.

“We are not getting to provide the kind of continuity and consistency that these people need,” he said.

About 2,600 mental health workers at Kaiser facilities around the state were taking part in the union work action, but it will not affect patient care at any Kaiser facilities, Clifford said.

Kaiser spokesman Rodger Dougherty agreed.

"We have all the shifts covered. The emergency and urgent care needs of our behavioral health members will be covered this week without disruption. If you need any care, you will receive it this week," Dougherty said.

Kaiser has increased its mental health care staff by about 25 percent over the last several years, Dougherty said. The wait time for patient appointments can vary from several days to several weeks, depending on a variety of factors, including appointment availability and patient preference, he said.

“We evaluate the staffing levels and all the issues that are raised and we are considering how to best staff for our members," the spokesman said.

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