MENTAL HEALTHCARE WORKERS STRIKE AT KAISER, CITE DELAYS IN PATIENT CARE

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By Hayden Parsley

January 12, 2015 (San Diego) – Mental healthcare clinicians marched in protest outside the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center on Zion Avenue in San Diego today, claiming Kaiser’s rules are unfair to them and their patients. It’s part of a statewide,week-long strike at over 65 locations --the largest walk-out of mental health workers in the nation, 10 News reports.

Union officials claim they are understaffed and as a result have had to delay their patients’ visits, often taking up to two months for an appointment—a lag that puts  health and lives at risk.

“It’s really unethical for us as healthcare professionals to be having to practice that way,” says Jim Clifford, a long time therapist at Kaiser, KPBS reports.

This isn’t the first time Kaiser has faced such accusations. In 2013 Kaiser was fined over $4 million by the state for forcing mental health patients to wait unreasonable amounts of time between appointments. Protestors claim that with the lack of staff this issue has not improved.

This protest includes roughly 2,600 mental health workers statewide who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The union is currently attempting to renegotiate the terms of its contract with Kaiser.

Rodger Dougherty, a spokesperson for Kaiser, claims “This has not impacted our mental services for emergent and urgent care what-so-ever,” U-T San Diego reports. Dougherty adds that the strike has not hindered emergency services.

Dougherty also claims that the mental health care system is operating appropriately.

“Mental health care is so individualized — an appointment may be several days or a couple weeks out," Dougherty contends, citing scheduling availability and patient preference as factors, KPBS reports.

Doughtery also told the UT that he believes union members are raising the issue to try and get a better contract. “In our estimation, it’s a bargaining tool that they’re using.”

Many protesters say they are genuinely concerned about patients’ wellbeing, however. They argue that it is important to schedule appointments close to each other so that the patients can make real progress.

“We are really worried about people committing suicide,” says Robin Sales, another therapist at Kaiser. She voiced embarrassment at having to tell patients they may have to wait up to a month to return for a session, UT San Diego reports.

Negotiations between Kaiser and the union are continuing, both sides have indicated.

 


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