On September 13th, various advocates for Kaiser health care members, who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), came together to present their concerns and reasons for being on strike for about 5 weeks to the Sacramento Board of Supervisors. Although there wasn’t an item that dealt with this specific issue on the agenda, these advocates took time to present their concerns to the Board of Supervisors in hopes of their intervention during the part of the meeting dedicated to comments on off-agenda items.
Image pulled from Sac Bee article linked below
To back track a bit, Kaiser mental health professionals have been striking since August 15th, 2022. According to this Sacramento Bee article, Kaiser mental health care clinicians are striking and protesting against Kaiser Permanente because of worker burnout, unreasonable case loads, and the simple fact that Kaiser is not allowing health care professionals enough time outside of direct sessions to address their patients’ conditions and find them resources to better assist their needs.
Kaiser clinician on strike
Currently, Kaiser health care clinicians work 40 hours a week, with 34 hours dedicated to seeing patients and the rest being left to ‘administrative time’ which is described by Deb Catsavas, senior Vice President of Human Resources of Kaiser, as “documentation, planning and other office activities rather than directly treating patients''. This leaves little to no time for mental healthcare professionals to follow through with their patients, and often results in vital follow up appointments being scheduled two to three months out.
This is in direct violation to SB 221 (see more at this link) which is a California law that came into effect in July which requires HMOS and health insurers to provide mental health and substance use disorder therapy sessions within two weeks of a prior appointments.
Brief breakdown of Kaiser's law violations below
Although the strike started in August of 2022, this negligent behavior on behalf of Kaiser Permanente was reported long before the strike. According to this Truthout article, 668 Californian clinicians resigned from Kaiser between June 2021 and May 2022.
Based on a survey conducted by NUHW (site linked here), 85 percent of those who resigned during that period reported it was due to unmanageable workloads while 76 percent reported it was:
their inability to ‘treat patients in line with standards of care and medical necessity'
So, this strike should really not surprise anyone, and has been brewing for what seems like an eternity for Kaiser mental healthcare workers and Kaiser members.
With this history in mind, it makes sense that Kaiser healthcare clinicians are now advocating for their patients to the Board of Supervisors. Kaiser Permanente is attempting to make this situation appear as an issue of wages and ‘administrative time’, but in reality these health care professionals are concerned about their patients and their mental health. The reality is that many of their patients are vulnerable and in need of consistent support in order to achieve stability after their intake appointments.
The fact that they have to wait up to two to three months to receive an initial follow up appointment is cruel and directly against SB 221.
The public comments made at the September 13th BOS meeting came from various health care workers on strike with the support of their union, NUHW. Many of the comments strongly urged the BOS to step in and take action.
One public commenter, Adrielle Walker, a mental healthcare worker for children at Kaiser implored the BOS to get the state government involved in order to enforce safe, ethical, legal health care standards.
Another commenter, Jenny Butera, explained how Kaiser is attempting to make this strike appear as a fight over wages and a shortage of healthcare workers, but the reality is that these professionals want their patients to be treated ethically and fairly according to the law.
What does this mean for our readers? Well, the issue of Kaiser health care professionals going on strike because of workplace treatment and the lack of resources for their patients is a great example of the mental health crisis this community and communities all over the nation are facing. It should NOT take two to three months to receive a follow up appointment after an intake appointment. Many of the public comments made at the BOS meeting on September 13th highlighted the fact that patients are facing an immediate health care crisis at the time of the intake appointment and often feel abandoned or even lose track of the initial issue once they arrive at their follow up appointment.
As a community, we cannot allow Kaiser Permanente to continue ignoring this issue and the mental health crisis they are contributing to.
This is an issue of social justice because Kaiser is openly neglecting the care of hundreds of patients suffering from mental health issues and allowing mental health professionals to take the hit.
According to Kaiser Permanente’s website (linked here) they made $8.1 billion dollars in income in 2021 compared to $6.4 billion dollars in 2020, yet they don't have enough money to provide mental health care clinicians with a contract that not only increases their wages for the work they have provided, but also affords them the time and staff to treat their patients in a effective and timely manner. We cannot allow Kaiser to continue to neglect their patients and mental health professionals, and we must stand with those on strike to support the appropriate mental health care response. Without the support of local and state governments, Kaiser will look to silence those actively fighting the mental health crisis we are facing.