Mental Health Workers Picket Over Lack of Benefits and Staff Shortages
Kaiser mental health workers are picketing across the state of California for better benefits and more mental health staff. The strikes are expected to last from Monday, December 10th through Friday, December 14th. The group includes around 4,000 psychologists, therapists, social workers and other mental health employees, all represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Citing unfair benefits and critical staffing issues, the group is picketing for the same benefits and pensions afforded to around 1000,000 other Kaiser employees, including medical healthcare employees and facilities personnel. The group is also calling on Kaiser to hire more mental healthcare workers to keep up with rising patient demand.
The State of Mental Healthcare in California
This is the fifth time Kaiser mental health workers have gone on strike since 2012. Previous strikes were organized to pressure Kaiser to hire more mental health workers. A deal was finally reached in 2015 to avoid an open-ended strike. The company signed a new contract with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, promising to hire hundreds of additional mental healthcare employees to increase patient access to care.
While Kaiser has made good on its promise to hire more mental healthcare workers, many workers have left the company since 2015. With limited benefits and a high turnaround, mental health professionals continue to struggle to keep up with patient demand. Currently, patients may have to wait up to a month or longer for follow-up mental health appointments. Sal Rosselli, the president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, has stated that patient access to care as stayed the same or worsened since 2015.
Where the Strike Will Take Place
The strike is expected to last until the end of the week with the first demonstration taking place at the San Francisco Medical Center at 2425 Geary Boulevard on Monday, December 10th at 6 A.M. The group will also hold demonstrations on Monday at the San Jose Medical Center at 275 Hospital Parkway and at several other locations throughout Southern California.
Tuesday will begin with a demonstration at the Oakland Medical Center at 3600 Broadway. The event will be followed by a discussion with the public in the afternoon at Oakland town hall. Over the course of the week, additional demonstrations are planned at numerous other Bay Area Kaiser health facilities, including those located in Santa Clara, Walnut Creek, and Vallejo. The group has published a list of all demonstrations on their website for those interested in participating or covering the story.
How the Community Is Coping
Kaiser plans on keeping its medical facilities open throughout the duration of the strike, including its hospitals, laboratories, and pharmacies. Many of the non-urgent mental health appointments scheduled for this week will be pushed back until after the strike is over. Patients seeking urgent mental healthcare will still be able to find the care they need throughout the strike. Anyone who is affected by these changes will receive a phone call from a Kaiser health employee, helping them make other arrangements.
While it remains unclear if these demonstrations will convince Kaiser to hire more mental health workers and expand employee benefits, participating mental health care workers believe these demonstrations will ultimately be the best for their patients and the community. The strike comes just as the union was scheduled to sit down with Kaiser for another round of negotiations. Kaiser has pushed back against the strike, accusing the demonstrators of further inhibiting patient access to care. At the moment, no further strikes have been planned, but both parties will need to reach a conclusion in the coming months if the company hopes to resume operations as normal.