Story at a glance
- Thousands of mental health care workers in Northern California are going on strike this week by forming picket lines and holding rallies outside Kaiser Permanente facilities.
- Workers are demanding Kaiser Permanente do more to make sure patients get the services they need.
- The National Union of Healthcare Workers says patients are often left waiting for months to receive critically needed mental health services like therapy sessions.
Thousands of mental health workers from Kaiser Permanente are going on strike this week in Northern California.
More than 2,000 psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers are expected to hold daily picket lines and rallies outside Kaiser Permanente facilities across the Bay Area, Sacramento and Fresno this week.
The unionized workers are calling on Kaiser Permanente to provide “desperately needed” mental health services to its patients by boosting the number of providers, among other things.
Kaiser assigns roughly one full-time mental health clinician for every 2,600 members in Northern California, and as a result, some patients are left waiting months in between therapy sessions, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
“Patients are getting ripped off while Kaiser’s coffers are bulging,” said union president Sal Rosselli in a statement.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers represents 16,000 health care workers in California and Hawaii, including more than 4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians.
“We don’t take striking lightly but it’s time to take a stand and make Kaiser spend some of its billions on mental health care,” Rosselli added.
The strike comes at a time when the rates of anxiety and depression among Americans are rising and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that from 2019 to the early days of the pandemic the amount of people suffering from anxiety or depression, or both, tripled.
Kaiser Permanente said in a statement the HMO has been negotiating with the union for more than a year and that the two key issues are wage increases and the time therapists spend on tasks other than seeing patients.
“We are working hard to be ready to meet our patients’ mental health needs during the strike. Beginning this week, our patients will receive care from those mental health clinicians who choose patient needs over the strike, as well as from our psychiatrists, clinical managers, and other licensed professionals,” the organization said in a statement.
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