Mental health workers from Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa medical center will join thousands of Kaiser’s union workers picketing across the state Tuesday. The strikes are set to last through Friday.
Roughly 4,000 psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and other Kaiser medical professionals represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers are hoping to draw attention to what they call a critical staff shortage and unequal benefits.
As a result, mental health care appointments during the week may be canceled, but the union’s president said the strike is in the long-term best interest of patients who have to wait a month or more for follow-up mental health appointments due to low staffing levels.
“They’ve canceled appointments for these five days, but there’s a critical situation every day of the year,” Sal Rosselli, the union’s president, said Sunday.
Rosselli said Kaiser needs to hire hundreds more clinicians to address what he called an “access crisis” for patients.
“People that need therapy ... need to establish a relationship with a clinician to help get them through their disorders,” he said. “That’s fundamentally important, to establish a relationship and see people on a regular basis.”
A Kaiser spokesperson characterized the strike as “unfortunate” and “unnecessary” in an interview Sunday.
“We believe that this strike is a bargaining tactic. it’s not about access, it’s not about better care,” Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Kaiser’s chief nurse executive said.
“It is really about them pushing for higher wages,” she said, claiming Kaiser’s mental health workers’ total compensations are among the highest in the state.
Gaskill-Hames said Kaiser has invested $175 million in updating mental health facilities and has increased its mental health workforce by 30 percent over the past several years.
“We know we have a shortage of mental health workers across this country, and over the last five years, we have been leaning in very heavily to build a world-class mental health services program,” she said, noting the California Office of the Patient Advocate awarded Kaiser Permanente Northern California its highest rating of five stars for behavioral health this year.
Kaiser said its medical centers and medical offices are scheduled to remain open during the strike, including hospitals, emergency and urgent care departments, as well as primary and specialty care departments, pharmacies, and laboratories.
The strike began in San Francisco on Monday, drawing thousands of workers and sympathizers. A list of participating cities can be found on the union’s website.
Press Democrat Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas contributed to this report.
You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @CrossingBordas.