Kaiser Therapists Strike Over Staffing Issues
More than 75 mental health clinicians picketed outside the Kaiser Permanente hospital in the Grantville area of San Diego Monday as part of a statewide protest.
Picketers outside the Zion Avenue hospital are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The union said Kaiser's "chronic failure to provide ... quality mental health care" led its members to begin a weeklong statewide strike Monday.
Union therapists said staffing issues prevent them from offering adequate care.
State regulators fined Kaiser $4 million in 2013 for making mental health patients wait too long between appointments. Clinicians say the situation hasn't improved, because Kaiser has refused to hire enough staff.
Jim Clifford, a long-time therapist at the Kaiser clinic in Otay Mesa, said patients usually have to wait one to two months for follow-up appointments.
"It’s really unethical for us as healthcare professionals to be having to practice that way," Clifford said.
Kaiser Vice President John Nelson maintained the organization has taken steps to improve the situation.
“We’ve increased the number of therapists in California over the last three years by 25 percent," Nelson said. "That’s just one of the things we’re doing to improve access and making sure our patients get the care that they need, when they need it.”
Kaiser spokesman Rodger Dougherty said there isn't necessarily a standardized wait time for someone to be seen.
"Mental health care is so individualized — an appointment may be several days or a couple weeks out," Dougherty said. "That could be based on any number of things, up to and including patient preference and scheduling availability."
Kaiser and union clinicians have been trying to reach their first labor agreement for the past four years.
Dougherty said the union is striking to get a better contract.
"I think this is primarily about union posturing and trying to get a better contract. We are focused on the care of our members, and we are negotiating in good faith," Dougherty said.
Union officials said more than 75 percent of Kaiser clinicians won't come to work this week. Kaiser said it’s trying to reschedule this week’s appointments.
In the meantime, Kaiser officials said care will be available for mental health emergencies.
Kaiser took out advertisements in U-T San Diego and other newspapers to assure members that services will be available during the strike.