Mental health workers plan strike at Kaiser clinics

LOS ANGELES — Mental health workers with Kaiser Permanente said Monday they will launch a strike on June 11 in protest of the wait times patients face in scheduling mental health appointments.

An estimated 4,000 Kaiser healthcare professionals will participate in the strike, National Union of Healthcare Workers said. The strike will be “open-ended” and is expected to impact more than 100 clinics and facilities throughout California, according to the union.

After officially starting on June 11, the strike will convene at the State Capitol Building in Sacramento for a Mental Health Parity rally. From there, strikers will gather outside Kaiser clinics throughout the state.

Participants — including psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and other medical specialists — expect the strike to continue until doctors’ concerns over wait times are addressed.

According to NUHW, many mental health patients must wait three months or longer in order to schedule appointments — and a survey NUHW released in April said more than 60 percent of Kaiser clinicians lack availability to make a visit within a month’s time possible for their patients.

“We can’t wait any longer to fix this problem” a Kaiser therapist, Alicia Cruz, said in a press release from NUHW. “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.”

John Nelson, vice president of communications at Kaiser Permanente, called the move “disappointing and disheartening” on Monday. “We have been in active bargaining with the union for nearly a year, and in the last few weeks have jointly made great progress toward an agreement,” Nelson said in an official statement. “We’ve heard their concerns regarding the dramatic increase in mental health care demand, the implications on their workload, and the implications for our patients.”

According to Nelson, both sides were making progress toward an agreement until last week, when bargaining reached an impasse. Nelson said of the union’s decision to strike, “It is deeply disturbing that the union leadership would be willing to sacrifice the needs of patients, especially when we are so aligned with our therapists on a path forward to address their concerns.”

Nelson closed the statement by reiterating Kaiser’s proposal to the union and asking its mental health clinicians to reconsider participating in the strike.

The scheduled strike comes six months after NUHW launched the largest mental health worker strike in U.S. history, which also concerned wait times patients faced in scheduling mental health appointments.

Editor’s note: The updated version of this story provides official statements on the scheduled strike from Kaiser Permanente.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.