Kaiser mental health workers strike in California

KAISER Permanente’s 2,600 mental health employees throughout California went on strike on Monday, Jan. 12 to protest what they deem a lack of staffing that, in turn, affects care.

Therapists and social workers employed by the health care provider demonstrated to demand that Kaiser provide quality and timely mental health care at its psychiatry clinics and departments, union member and San Diego psychiatric therapist Jim Clifford told Associated Press.

“Kaiser purports to be the leader in health care, but it’s continuing the history of discrimination against the mentally ill, and that’s unacceptable to us,” Clifford said, according to the news agency.

Wearing red T-shirts, workers picketed with signs reading “Fair Wages Now and “Social Workers for Quality Care,” and vowed to continue protesting until next Monday.

National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents Kaiser’s mental health employees, has not yet been able to reach a contract agreement with Kaiser since the group was established five years ago.

John Nelson, Kaiser vice president of government relations, said there is no shortage of mental health staff. He said that as a result of the health plan, there has been a 25 percent statewide staff increase and an 8 percent growth in membership in the past three years.

Bogus claims are among the union’s bargaining tactics, Nelson said.

“They think that attacking Kaiser Permanente’s reputation will get them a better contract,” Nelson said, according to Associated Press. “It’s frustrating, it’s disappointing, but it’s their strategy.”

During the strike, Nelson said staff psychiatrists will attend to patients with emergencies or in crisis, while appointments are being rescheduled.

Next week from Jan. 21 to 22, more than 18,000 Kaiser nurses and nurse practitioners in Northern and Central California are planning to strike.

The Oakland Tribune reported that nurses say the health care provided has slashed hospital services, discharged patients still requiring care and restricted patient admission.

Those planning to strike are members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Association and will protest “a growing erosion of patient care standards,” according to a news release.

The strike will affect all 86 Kaiser Permanente clinics and hospitals.

In November, nurses held a two-day strike.

They are currently discussing contracts with Kaiser.

“We are in contract negotiations with CNA, and at a point where we are discussing economic proposals. We are confident that Kaiser Permanente and CNA will reach a fair agreement and look forward to having CNA back at the bargaining table soon,” Kaiser Permanente said in a statement.

(With reports from Associated Press and The Oakland Tribune)

(LA Midweek January 14-16, 2015 Sec. A pg.5)

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