The following is being released by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, NUHW.org:
Kaiser Permanente's 2,600 California mental health clinicians — psychologists, therapists, and social workers represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers — will launch a statewide, week-long strike on Monday, January 12, to protest Kaiser's chronic failure to provide its members with timely, quality mental health care.
Despite huge profits — "nonprofit" Kaiser has made more than $14 billion since 2009, and this year's profits are up 40 percent over last year's record — Kaiser does not staff its psychiatry departments with enough clinicians to treat the ever-growing number of patients seeking care. Last year state regulators fined Kaiser $4 million for systemic understaffing that forces patients to endure lengthy waits for treatment, in violation of California law.
Since then, Kaiser has failed to correct the problems. Instead, Kaiser merely shifted resources, directing clinicians to see more first-time patients at the expense of returning patients. Patients frequently endure waits of four to twelve weeks, making effective, ongoing treatment nearly impossible.
"For patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and other debilitating mental conditions, these delays can be insurmountable obstacles," said Clement Papazian, a clinical social worker at Kaiser in Oakland, Calif. "Kaiser's actions are doing real harm."
And the situation is getting worse. Kaiser's California enrollment has increased by a quarter million members this year under the Affordable Care Act. Staffing levels, already too low, are not keeping pace with enrollment. Withholding services while increasing membership is an effective way to score record profits but it has led to woefully inadequate care, as well as four class-action lawsuits filed by patients and families who say Kaiser's violations contributed to tragic outcomes, including suicides.
In December, clinicians presented Kaiser with a commonsense solution: clinician–management committees in each facility that can determine adequate staffing levels and outsourcing needs. It's a simple and effective solution already in place in other health care systems. But once again, Kaiser failed to act, triggering this statewide strike.
"With soaring profits and a $30 billion reserve, Kaiser needs to step up and lead the way in finally making mental health care a priority in this country," said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. "The law requires it and Kaiser's ethical obligations as a health care provider demand it."
National Union of Healthcare Workers