Kaiser Mental Health Workers Hold Five-Day Strike
Thousands of Kaiser Permanente mental health care workers began a five-day strike on Monday in San Diego and across the state. The psychiatric nurses, addiction specialists and others represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, said they are drawing attention to the nonprofit’s failure to increase staffing levels to meet a growing patient load.
“Initial access is done within 14 days. But our patients are waiting over six weeks for a follow-up visit,” said Mark Land-Ariizumi, a registered psychiatric nurse. "So what we're fighting for is enough staffing so we can see the patients that need to come back."
Land-Ariizumi was one of dozens of unionized workers holding signs, chanting and marching outside of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Clairemont Mesa.
He said inadequate staffing is putting patients at risk.
“An increase in depression and an increase in anxiety, possible suicide,” Land-Ariizumi said. “It really is a matter of getting them the care ... so that they progressively get better.”
Kaiser Permanente officials argued the strike is more about money than staffing.
“We have been hiring therapists, increasing our staff by 30 percent since 2015 — that’s more than 500 new therapists in California — even though there’s a national shortage,” Kaiser stated. “The union's principal demands at the bargaining table have not been about improving care and access, but are about gaining even higher wages and benefits and demanding changes to performance standards that would reduce, not increase, the availability of mental health care for our members.”
Mental health care and staffing has long been a contentious issue at Kaiser. In 2015, the nonprofit agreed to pay a $4 million fine levied by state regulators due to inadequate access to its mental health services.