Kaiser Mental Health Workers Start 5-Day Strike Across California

Mental health workers start weeklong strike in California

Mental health workers start weeklong strike in California

Four thousand California mental health clinicians began a five-day strike December 10 to protest what they call understaffing issues that lead to long wait times for therapy appointments.

Though its San Diego-area hospital emergency rooms remained open to handle urgent psychiatric illnesses, Jennifer Dailard, a spokeswoman for Kaiser San Diego, said in an email that the strike made it necessary to pull back on office-based care. In 2015, the same group walked picket lines in front of Kaiser's Zion Avenue hospital citing understaffing that drew a $4 million fine from the state Department of Managed Care in 2013. Base pay is $135,000 per year for psychologists and $109,000 per year for social workers, Kaiser said.

Patients often wait more than a month for an appointment because there is only one full-time mental health clinician for every 3,000 Kaiser members in California, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

The union's contract with Kaiser lapsed in October, allowing its members to strike. "If Kaiser is serious about being a leader in mental healthcare, it needs to get serious about listening to its mental health clinicians and using its ample resources to properly staff its mental health services and provide the care that patients need", Linda Matthews, a Kaiser licensed clinical social worker in Rancho Cordova, said in a statement.

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Kaiser did not say exactly how many appointments were rescheduled.

"There are no takeaways in our contract proposal", Mr. Nelson said.

Union officials said the weeklong job action could shut down or severely limit services for the week at more than 100 clinics across the state.

Kaiser officials said contracting with community therapists "is another key tool we've used to improve access for our members". "This is irresponsible and dangerously insensitive to people in need of care". "We are offering guaranteed wage increases which would keep our expert therapists among the best compensated in their profession and continue to ensure that we attract and retain the most highly skilled professionals". The union has called for smaller patient-to-therapist ratios, fewer patient referrals to therapists outside the Kaiser network and, in some cases, increased staffing. Workers also distributed flyers at Kaiser facilities ahead of the strike.

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