Kaiser Permanente-Fresno mental health workers plan to go on a weeklong strike Monday, joining hundreds of their colleagues statewide to protest what they say is the health system’s inadequate staffing to provide mental health services.
About 40 mental-health workers in Fresno could be on the picket line outside the Kaiser hospital in northeast Fresno. Negotiations between the workers and the health plan were ongoing Friday.
Also on Friday, the California Nurses Association said Kaiser nurses will hold a two-day strike Jan. 21 and 22 that could involve 18,000 nurses, including Fresno-Kaiser. The CNA said the strike is to protest early discharge of patients and insufficient resources, equipment and training for nurses that they say put patients at risk.
Statewide, about 2,600 therapists and social workers could strike Monday. The mental health workers want an increase in staffing for adults, children, intensive outpatient, chemical dependency and behavioral medicine, said Kimberly Hollingsworth, a Kaiser-Fresno licensed marriage and family therapist. “The majority of our concerns are related to patient care and to be able to provide quality services,” she said.
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A Kaiser official said the health plan has increased staffing statewide by 25% in the past three years. Membership during that same time has grown only by 8%, said John Nelson, vice president of government relations based in Oakland. “We’re hiring therapists at the rate of three times the growth of membership,” he said.
Hollingsworth said Kaiser hired workers after the state fined the health plan $4 million in 2013 for failing to provide timely mental health care, but the extra workers only addressed problems that patients had in getting new appointments. Patients continue to wait for return or ongoing appointments, she said. “We’re finding we cannot get people in for appointments. My patients, for instance, I typically will see them four to six weeks out.”
Patients also are encouraged to seek group therapy instead of individual therapy sessions, Hollingsworth said. “That’s great, but not for every diagnosis,” she said.
Nelson said Kaiser can accommodate patient care needs whether appointments are needed once a month, every two weeks, once a week or multiple times a week. The treatment may be individual therapy, group therapy, behavioral health classes and education, he said.
During the proposed strike, any Kaiser member with urgent or crisis needs will be seen, he said. “But there will need to be some appointments that will have to be rescheduled.”
The workers who plan to strike are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Kaiser psychiatrists, managers and other employees who are not part of the union and who are licensed to provide care will be available, Nelson said. The health plan also can call on other providers in the community to see patients, if necessary, he said.