4,000 mental health professionals to go on strike in California

Four thousand Kaiser Permanente mental health professionals will begin a five-day strike Monday demanding the HMO address their concerns about what they called understaffing problems.

The workers claimed that shortages of clinicians has limited patients' access to appropriate treatment, according to a statement from National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

“Access to mental health care is a civil rights issue,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “This strike is a clear message to Kaiser that its mental health clinicians won’t stand by silently while their patients can’t get the care they need.”

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John Nelson, a spokesperson for Kaiser told The Hill that he was "disappointed" that NUHW leadership "would ask" staff to go on strike.

"We are disappointed the leadership of the National Union of Healthcare Workers would ask our highly valued mental health staff to go out on strike, when we’ve been in active negotiations since the summer, having met in 16 bargaining sessions over 5 months," Nelson wrote in an emailed statement to The Hill.

“There are no takeaways in our contract proposal. We are offering guaranteed wage increases that would keep our expert therapists among the best compensated in their profession," he added. "The union’s principal demands at the bargaining table have not been about improving care and access, but are about gaining even higher wages and benefits and demanding changes to performance standards that would reduce, not increase, the availability of mental health care for our members.”

Those protesting want Kaiser to improve staffing to reduce how long patients must wait for an appointment, lower the number of patients sent to non-Kaiser therapists and increase the ratio of returning patients to intake patients.

The union said it has tried to work with Kaiser, but added that "the HMO has refused to make meaningful changes to working conditions or access to therapy appointments despite reporting a $3.8 billion profit last year and a $2.9 billion profit in the first nine months of 2018."

“We have not seen any meaningful improvements,” Clem Papazian, a Kaiser-licensed clinical social worker, said in the statement.

“Clinicians are booked solid for weeks and patients are waiting far too long for therapy appointments. This is an untenable situation that should have ended years ago," Papazian said. "We still want to work with Kaiser to solve this problem, but first Kaiser has to be willing to use its immense resources to truly help its patients seeking mental health treatment.”

-- Updated 7:00 p.m.