Kaiser Mental Health Workers End Strike and Return to Union Negotiations

South San Francisco, CA   December 19, 2018 

Mental health issues can become more acute during the holidays. Please scroll below for online and phone help if you, or someone you know, need help.

Earlier this week South San Francisco neighbors spoke of concern regarding the picketing workers in front of Kaiser. San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa put out a press release stating he would be joining the picket line on December 12th in support of the mental health clinicians and professionals represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. “The result of Kaiser’s poor staffing ratios puts the community at risk,” Canepa said. “These mental health clinicians cannot adequately care for these at-risk patients who are often pushed out of the Kaiser system altogether. These are vulnerable individuals who deserve the same respect and dignity as Kaiser’s other patients.”


South City resident Ava was one of several people who reached out to Everything South City seeking more information. “On my way home today via Hickey Blvd I saw a group of Kaiser Permanente nurses protesting up by West Winston Manor, they are on strike for mental health issues. Does has anyone have info about it?”

Each year Everything South City publishes tips on how to avoid, or cope with, stress and depression during the holidays yet realize some need more help than simple tips and were glad to hear the strike has ended.


Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Chief Nurse Executive, Kaiser Permanente Northern California has this to share;

This strike was unnecessary, and poorly timed, coming during the holiday season when many of our patients with mental health needs were seeking care. It needlessly put our patients in the middle of the union’s contract demands, which is especially disheartening because the union’s principal demands at the bargaining table have not been about improving care and access. Rather, the union leadership is seeking even higher wages and benefits and demanding operational changes that would reduce the availability of mental health care for our patients.


Throughout the strike, Kaiser Permanent continued to provide high-quality and safe care to our members and patients, though some non-emergency appointments had to be rescheduled. We regret the inconvenience caused to our patients by NUHW’s strike.


With the strike over, we want to express appreciation to the hundreds of therapists who chose to put their patients first and came to work during the strike. On behalf of our patients, we thank them for their dedication and commitment. We also welcome back those employees who were not here during the strike. We look forward to having all of our staff in place, working together, to provide the highest quality care for our members and patients.


We are pleased that the union’s leadership has agreed to return to the bargaining table in the coming week. We are prepared to reach a responsible new contract agreement and are confident that with active engagement on both sides, we will be successful. We value our therapists and are calling on them to urge their union leadership to bargain constructively and stop putting our patients in the middle of contract demands. It’s just not right to disrupt their care.



On November 29th the National Union of Healthcare Workers put out this press release:


Four Thousand Caregivers to Protest over the Quality of Mental Health Care. Strike will Affect more than 100 Kaiser Clinics and Medical Facilities

Picketing at SSF Kaiser

Emeryville – The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) filed notice with state authorities today that mental health clinicians represented by the union will hold a strike at Kaiser Permanente facilities across California Dec. 10 to 14.  The strike was sparked by the nation’s largest non-profit HMO’s failure to live up to its promises to fix ongoing understaffing issues that force patients to wait a month or more for mental health therapy appointments.

Four thousand Kaiser psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and addiction medicine specialists — along with other medical professionals — will stage pickets outside dozens of Kaiser facilities from San Diego to Sacramento during the week-long walkout.

Kaiser has a long history of forcing patients to endure extensive waits therapy appointments. California’s Department of Managed Health Care fined Kaiser $4 million in 2013 for violating the state’s Mental Health Parity Act and Timely Access to Care standards. Two subsequent reports found further violations, and last year the agency required Kaiser to accept outside monitoring of its mental health services.

“Many of the issues that have plagued Kaiser for years have not gone away,” said Kelly Magee O’Dea, a Kaiser licensed clinical social worker. “The wait times for appointments are far too long, and the end result for too many people is that they either get sicker or they drop out of treatment frustrated because they cannot get the care they need.”

For nearly a decade, through concerted union activity, legal efforts and collective bargaining, clinicians have been seeking improvements in mental health care services at Kaiser. Clinicians want more authority to apply their professional judgement to how often they see their patients and whether individual or group therapy is indicated.

NUHW members filed the complaint that led to the initial state investigation and ensuing $4 million fine. Since 2015, the union and its members have been committed to working with Kaiser managers to improve care, but the HMO has refused to make meaningful changes to working conditions or access to care.

Kaiser’s ratio of mental health clinicians to Kaiser members has remained essentially unchanged since 2015 (approximately one full-time equivalent clinician for every 3,000 Kaiser members in California). Since contract bargaining began in June, Kaiser has rejected clinicians’ proposals to boost staffing to end long waits for therapy appointments.

“Our patients are still struggling to access the care they need,” said Emily Schwartz, a Kaiser therapist. “If Kaiser is serious about improving access, it has to work constructively with clinicians and put more resources into solving the problem.”

This week Kaiser reported a $2.9 billion profit over the first nine months of 2018 after reporting a $3.8 billion profit for 2017. Kaiser has nonprofit status, but holds $42 billion in cash and investments. It pays its top managers salaries in the millions of dollars with multiple pensions and other lucrative benefits.

“Kaiser clearly has the resources to be a mental health care leader; instead it’s a violator of mental health access rules,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli, “We remain ready to work with Kaiser to fix its mental health system, but it’s time for Kaiser to use its vast resources to make meaningful improvements for patients. Walking a picket line for five days is a small sacrifice compared to our patients’ burden of waiting weeks for care that they paid for, at times desperately need, and have every right to receive.”


Everything South City published this last year and it still is relevant today:

There is so much excitement surrounding the holidays and we all perceive it differently. While most might be happy, there are many who don’t share that same enthusiasm, often due to losses they’ve survived.


In the spirit of giving, please do remember our neighbors who might be struggling through these cold darker days; give them a call, a visit, a smile, a reminder that they too matter.

Please share suggestions on reaching out to others, what helps, what doesn’t…..


And please keep these resources:
**From CrisisTextLine.org :Text 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.

**From suicidepreventionlifeline.org : We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255




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