‘Patients getting ripped off’: California mental health workers go on strike | american unions

Thousands of mental health workers in California go on strike to demand that Kaiser Permanente, America’s largest non-profit HMO, better provide “desperately needed” services.

As the United States grapples with a rise in pandemic-induced anxiety and depression, Kaiser patients are waiting months for therapy sessions, according to the union representing the workers.

Starting Monday, more than 2,000 workers, including psychologists, therapists, social workers and counselors, are expected to hold daily rallies on picket lines across the state, from Sacramento to the Bay Area to Fresno, as part of an indefinite strike.

The move comes after a year of unsuccessful negotiations between Kaiser, which serves 9 million people in the state, and the union. Kaiser has rejected union proposals to increase the workforce and ‘improve access to care’, according to the union, while the company argues that central issues are wage increases and time spent to administrative tasks.

Despite record profits last year, Kaiser has just one mental health clinician for 2,600 patients, the union said. Patients who should instead be receiving weekly therapy are waiting up to eight weeks, the union says, and an overwhelming workload is pushing therapists out of business altogether.

“Patients are being ripped off as Kaiser’s coffers are bloated,” Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Health Care Workers, said in a statement. statement. “We don’t take the strike lightly, but it’s time to take a stand and get Kaiser to spend some of his billions on mental health care.”

The need for mental health services has increased during the pandemic as anxiety and depression have increased in the United States and around the world. In the first year of the pandemic, anxiety and depression increased by 25% worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. America’s surgeon general has warned that America’s youth are facing a mental health pandemic.

But Kaiser’s patients aren’t getting the care they need, the union says, accusing the health giant of violating clinical guidelines for treatment and state laws. California before Kaiser fined $4 million for problems with his mental health services, including prolonged wait times. The state is investigating Kaiser’s behavioral health services after receiving complaints from patients and providers.

“We are signing strike notice because our patients are not getting the services they need,” Shay Loftus, a Kaiser psychologist participating in the strike, said in a statement. “We don’t want to be part of a system that doesn’t respect the work we do and prevents us from providing ethical care.

Kaiser says he faces the same worker shortage as other U.S. healthcare providers because there aren’t enough mental health professionals to meet the growing demand and the union is “exploiting the challenges as a negotiating tactic”. The company has hired nearly 200 clinicians since 2021 and used virtual care to improve access, according to Kaiser.

“Despite all we do, we, like others, are challenged to meet the demand and know that more needs to be done. We strive to continue to find new ways to meet the mental health needs of our members and patients,” said Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, in a statement. statement.

“This strike is an unnecessary tactic to increase the union’s influence at the bargaining table, making it harder, not easier, to deliver mental health care,” Catsavas said.

Patients will continue to receive care from workers who choose not to strike, Catsavas said, adding that “non-urgent” appointments could be rescheduled.

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