Kaiser mental health workers strike for third day in fight for increased staffing and wages

The National Union of Health Care Workers, which represents Kaiser’s psychologists, therapists, social workers and chemical addiction counselors in northern California, is negotiating a new contract with Kaiser and is asking the company to hire more mental health workers to ease the burden. on current staff. The union said negotiations with management over the weekend ended without a resolution, with Kaiser rejecting the union’s “proposals to increase membership and end dangerously long waits for mental health therapy appointments. “.

Nicole Riddle, a labor and delivery nurse, said she had suffered the consequences of the staff shortage, not only as a healthcare worker, but also as a member of Kaiser who tried to d access mental health services for herself.

“I’ve had my own experiences, both trying to hold my own through really traumatic birth experiences, postpartum depression, and then for my own child,” she said. “And I feel like Kaiser is banking on people being exhausted enough not to keep escalating and defending themselves. And then those who are privileged enough to do so are paying out of pocket.”

“We deserve a better situation,” she added.

In a statement released Sunday after talks stalled, Deb Catsavas, regional senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser, said the Oakland-based company had “the deepest appreciation and gratitude for our mental health professionals and the extraordinary care they provide to our members.” But, she noted, “there are not enough mental health professionals to meet the increased demand for care,” both locally than national.

The company has hired “nearly 200 new clinicians since January 2021” and launched a $500,000 initiative to recruit new mental health practitioners, Catsavas added.

“Despite the union’s harmful tactics, we remain committed to negotiating in good faith to reach a fair and just settlement that is good for our therapists and our patients,” she said.

During negotiations, the union accepted Kaiser’s offer of a pay rise, but stood firm on its demand that nine hours a week – up from the current six hours – be allocated to administrative work. Kaiser, however, denied this request, arguing that she would not allow enough time to see patients. His counter-offer, for an extra hour and a half for this work, was flatly rejected.

California law requires healthcare providers like Kaiser to provide timely patient care, even during labor strikes, and state regulators say they are closely monitoring consumer complaints about compliance of the company. Kaiser said he would prioritize urgent mental health situations, but may have to reschedule some ongoing appointments.

Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, who joined Oakland staffers on the picket line on Tuesday, said mental health care has been undervalued for too long.

“Mental health care is health care. And [it] must stop being viewed as the son-in-law of health care,” Kalb said, pointing to the long-standing demand for services that has only intensified since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Kaiser should be ashamed of themselves for not staffing the mental health care clinicians they need and paying them a fair wage. It’s inexcusable.”

Kalb called for “unanimous support” for mental health workers, not just at Kaiser, but in all health care settings “to ensure there are enough health care workers everywhere to respond. people’s needs”.

Matthew Green of KQED contributed reporting.

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