Kaiser mental health workers prepare to strike in Northern California and Central Valley – NBC Bay Area

More than 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health professionals in Northern California and the Central Valley are set to begin what organizers call an “open-ended strike” Monday morning.

Negotiations involving management and psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists and chemical addiction counselors ended without a resolution on Saturday.

The National Union of Health Care Workers said in a statement Sunday that Kaiser had rejected “union proposals to increase staffing levels and end dangerously long waits for mental health therapy appointments.”

Employees plan to walk the picket lines from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at Kaiser facilities in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Fresno.

The union said during negotiations on Friday and Saturday that clinicians accepted a pay offer from management, but Kaiser rejected a proposal that included provisions to increase staff numbers and reduce wait times for appointments.

“From day one, we’ve been telling Kaiser leaders it’s not about the money,” said Jennifer Browning, Kaiser’s Roseville social worker and a member of the union’s bargaining team. “It’s about our professional integrity and our ability to provide care that will help patients get better.”

Kaiser released a statement on Sunday, saying that despite the upcoming walkout, they have plans to meet patient needs. Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources for Kaiser in Northern California, said there were two main issues.

“One is increased wages and the other is the union’s demand to increase the time therapists spend on tasks other than seeing patients,” Catsavas said. “The primary role – and essential need – of our therapists is to provide mental health care and treat our patients. The remaining issue being negotiated with NUHW is the time therapists spend on administrative tasks such as documentation, planning and other office activities rather than dealing directly with patients.

“In recognition of the concerns and priorities of our therapists, we have proposed an increase in the scheduled time allocated to administrative duties, but the union is calling for even more administrative time.”

Catsavas said Kaiser recently reached an agreement with the same Southern California union for 1,900 mental health professionals.

Kaiser said some clinicians will stay on the job and he has expanded his network of “high-quality community providers and will continue to prioritize urgent and emergency care.” Some non-urgent appointments may need to be rescheduled and patients whose appointments may be affected will be contacted directly prior to the appointment date.

The union said state law requires Kaiser to pay for out-of-network services if he is unable to provide urgent mental health appointments within 48 hours and elective appointments within 10 working days, unless the therapist determines that a longer wait would not be detrimental to the health of the patient.

On Sunday, Bay Area Kaiser mental health clinicians were preparing and picketing for the strike.

“Seeing people who are suicidal, who are depressed, who are anxious, who have really bad trauma. Seeing them once every two months is not enough,” said Kathy Ray, a Kaiser licensed clinical social worker.

The impending strike is already having an impact on patients.

“I had an appointment scheduled for tomorrow, Monday. And on Thursday I got a phone call saying my appointment was cancelled,” said Walnut Creek resident Laura Bramble.

Bramble said Kaiser gave her no other options after she canceled the appointment with her psychologist.

“For someone like me, like a lot of us who have issues with anxiety and depression, I mean, I guess it depends on who you are, I rely on that person to keep me going. is a bit like flying without a parachute,” she said.

Although Kaiser said he hired nearly 200 new mental health clinicians to keep up with demand, child psychologist Alexis Petrakis said clinicians were still overwhelmed.

“Our workloads are unachievable. They are not durable and that is mainly why people leave. We have lost about 17% of our union membership in the last year,” she said.

The strike is expected to continue throughout the week.

Bay City News contributed to the report.

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