Kaiser mental health workers to strike

California flagThe National Union of Healthcare Workers announced Saturday that its 2,600 Kaiser mental health care clinicians in California would begin a weeklong strike today. The strike is being described as the largest of its kind in the nation.

Kaiser has a history of severe problems in its mental health care in California. In June of 2013, state regulators fined Kaiser $4 million for problems with mental health care in their system, particularly focused on timely access to care. (After an extended fight, Kaiser agreed to pay the fine in September 2014.) Long wait times to see a therapist in the first place, or to get a follow-up session after an initial assessment, have been blamed for a variety of problems including at least two suicides. There is an ongoing class-action lawsuit against Kaiser, filed on behalf of its patients, accusing the healthcare giant of failure to provide timely and adequate mental health care.

For its part, Kaiser noted that it has been hiring mental health clinicians faster than its membership has grown, and framed this week’s strike in terms of a contract dispute. A spokesman for the union countered that they have foregone raises that other Kaiser healthcare provider groups have received in the past five years, in an ongoing effort “to force Kaiser into providing adequate care,” according to the Sonoma County Press Democrat.

NUHW reported that this week’s strike will include 65 picket lines in 35 cities around the state. Online magazine Truthout noted that Kaiser was given advance notice that the strike would take place if recent contract negotiations were unsuccessful, allowing clinicians, patients, and administrators time to develop contingency plans for client emergencies arising during the strike period.