Health & Medicine

4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians call off open-ended strike set to start Tuesday

The union representing 4,000 mental health clinicians statewide at Kaiser Permanente announced Sunday that its membership voted to call off the open-ended strike they planned to start Tuesday, saying they had made progress at the bargaining table.

Citing the hardship such a strike would have imposed on patients in dire need of care, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon had called upon both sides to resume negotiations and reach a settlement.

Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the union considering the strike, said that Kaiser has said it is willing to undertake a six-month collaborative process that would reform its system, including looking at practices that have left tens of thousands of patients seeking help from non-Kaiser therapists.

“The ball is in Kaiser’s court,” Rosselli said in a prepared news release. “We remain ready to negotiate a contract that fully addresses the pressing problems faced by Kaiser Permanente clinicians and patients, but Kaiser is refusing to meet with us.”

In a statement released Sunday night, Kaiser said: “NUHW and Kaiser Permanente have been engaged throughout the weekend, through a neutral facilitator, to address the outstanding issues on the bargaining table and seek resolution. As we have communicated to our employees and others, we have addressed the key issues raised by labor and management.”

“We are pleased that the NUHW strike has been called off; it was the responsible thing to do,” the Kaiser statement continued. “We credit this decision to our therapists, who have been providing leadership at the table and representing the voice of our employees in all these discussions.”

In a letter to the union about two weeks ago, two Kaiser Permanente leaders made an offer that they said would provide immediate relief from staffing shortages and constraints in appointments.

Janet A. Liang, the president of Kaiser’s Northern California Region, and Deborah Royalty, chief administrative officer of the Permanente Medical Group, proposed to implement a number of actions in the successive 30 days, including:

  • Focusing the staff and resources of a temporary agency on crisis intake, including psychiatric nurses who would do triage.
  • Reviewing all service locations to determine whether scheduling guidelines are being met.
  • Expanding the number of recruiters trying to fill positions for mental health and wellness job openings.
  • Scheduling on-call staff for emergency rooms.
  • Providing more staff to handle scheduling to reduce the time therapists spend on this work.
  • Evaluating retention and turnover data, especially as it relates to attrition over the last two years.

“We believe these changes will make meaningful, immediate improvement in your daily office schedule,” Royal and Liang stated in their letter. “However, these actions are just the beginning, and so together we need to innovate and collaborate to design an integrated model of evidence based care that truly makes Kaiser Permanente the best place to receive care and best place to work in mental health.”

In earlier interviews with The Sacramento Bee, Elk Grove psychologist Kenneth Rogers said: “Patients are having to wait a very long time for return access, not for the initial visit but for the ongoing visits. That’s been a situation that has not improved because really we haven’t finished the bargaining and we haven’t made concrete steps toward efforts that would help to improve that part of the service we provide.”

The union has said that any new labor contract must improve patient access to mental health care

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.