Kaiser mental health workers in Bay Area and Northern California plan to go on strike Monday morning - Upsmag - Magazine News


Kaiser mental health workers in Bay Area and Northern California plan to go on strike Monday morning

About 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health workers across the Bay Area and California’s Central Valley plan to go on strike Monday, demanding the health care provider boost staffing to curtail burdensome wait times for patients seeking appointments.

Therapists and counselors plan to picket in San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno on Monday and continue in other Bay Area cities until a deal is reached, according to a statement by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The move includes most mental health workers in Kaiser’s Northern California system, except for psychiatrists.

The planned strike comes after a bargaining session ended Saturday without a deal between the health care provider and its Northern California-based psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists and chemical dependency counselors, the union said. While the union said that it agreed to a wage offer from Kaiser this weekend, other issues pertaining to staffing and working conditions kept the two sides from striking a deal.

“This is a last resort to do what we can to change things going forward, because as things go now, it’s only going to get worse for patients,” said Sarah Soroken, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Kaiser in Solano County. “It is a very tough emotional decision. But it’s one we feel is necessary at this point.”

In a statement, Kaiser Permanente said the union was “exploiting current challenges as a bargaining tactic” that threatened to impact their patients.

“This strike is an unnecessary tactic to increase the union’s leverage at the bargaining table making it harder, not easier, to deliver mental health care,” said a statement from Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

The work stoppage comes amid discord between Kaiser and its therapists over staffing, burnout among therapists and the time that staff members receive each week to complete administrative tasks.

In a statement, Kaiser officials said the issue comes down to how much time its therapists spend on administrative tasks every week. Under the current bargained agreement, clinicians who solely see patients could use 6 hours during every 40-hour week to do administrative work. Kaiser said it is proposing an increase to 7.2 hours a week, while it said the union has asked for 9 hours a week.

Doing so would drop the time that those therapists and counselors spend with their patients from 34 hours a week to 31 hours, Kaiser’s statement said.

“Our patients cannot afford a proposal that significantly reduces time available to care for our patients and their mental health needs,” the statement said.

The workers’ union countered that clinicians are being forced to do that work in their off-time, due to severe staffing shortages and widespread burnout among therapists. As a result of those staffing issues, patients must endure “dangerously” long wait times for care, including months to start therapy sessions.

Many patients must wait one to two months between therapy appointments. The union also claims that the provider isn’t checking in enough on patients at risk of suicide, and that it’s failing to admit them into inventive outpatient treatment programs as needed.

“We have tried everything to improve the working conditions and the patient care conditions at Kaiser,” Soroken said. “Nothing is changing the fact that at Kaiser, our patients wait four to 12 weeks between individual therapy appointment, which are dangerously long waits for patients with active symptoms.”

Check back for more as this story develops.

About 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health workers across the Bay Area and California’s Central Valley plan to go on strike Monday, demanding the health care provider boost staffing to curtail burdensome wait times for patients seeking appointments.

Therapists and counselors plan to picket in San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno on Monday and continue in other Bay Area cities until a deal is reached, according to a statement by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The move includes most mental health workers in Kaiser’s Northern California system, except for psychiatrists.

The planned strike comes after a bargaining session ended Saturday without a deal between the health care provider and its Northern California-based psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists and chemical dependency counselors, the union said. While the union said that it agreed to a wage offer from Kaiser this weekend, other issues pertaining to staffing and working conditions kept the two sides from striking a deal.

“This is a last resort to do what we can to change things going forward, because as things go now, it’s only going to get worse for patients,” said Sarah Soroken, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Kaiser in Solano County. “It is a very tough emotional decision. But it’s one we feel is necessary at this point.”

In a statement, Kaiser Permanente said the union was “exploiting current challenges as a bargaining tactic” that threatened to impact their patients.

“This strike is an unnecessary tactic to increase the union’s leverage at the bargaining table making it harder, not easier, to deliver mental health care,” said a statement from Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

The work stoppage comes amid discord between Kaiser and its therapists over staffing, burnout among therapists and the time that staff members receive each week to complete administrative tasks.

In a statement, Kaiser officials said the issue comes down to how much time its therapists spend on administrative tasks every week. Under the current bargained agreement, clinicians who solely see patients could use 6 hours during every 40-hour week to do administrative work. Kaiser said it is proposing an increase to 7.2 hours a week, while it said the union has asked for 9 hours a week.

Doing so would drop the time that those therapists and counselors spend with their patients from 34 hours a week to 31 hours, Kaiser’s statement said.

“Our patients cannot afford a proposal that significantly reduces time available to care for our patients and their mental health needs,” the statement said.

The workers’ union countered that clinicians are being forced to do that work in their off-time, due to severe staffing shortages and widespread burnout among therapists. As a result of those staffing issues, patients must endure “dangerously” long wait times for care, including months to start therapy sessions.

Many patients must wait one to two months between therapy appointments. The union also claims that the provider isn’t checking in enough on patients at risk of suicide, and that it’s failing to admit them into inventive outpatient treatment programs as needed.

“We have tried everything to improve the working conditions and the patient care conditions at Kaiser,” Soroken said. “Nothing is changing the fact that at Kaiser, our patients wait four to 12 weeks between individual therapy appointment, which are dangerously long waits for patients with active symptoms.”

Check back for more as this story develops.

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