4,000 Caregivers to Launch Strike Against Kaiser June 11

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Four thousand California caregivers will go on strike on June 11th and stay on strike ``until Kaiser brings immediate relief to patients who must wait at least a month or more for mental health appointments,'' their union announced today.

The strike will be ``open-ended'' and affect more than 100 Kaiser clinics and medical facilities throughout the state, according to a statement from the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

``Confronted with a growing crisis of patients, who cannot receive timely mental health care, 4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians and healthcare professionals will strike starting on June 11 and remain on picket lines until an agreement is reached to immediately improve access to care,'' according to the union.

The following day, hundreds of strikers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, will converge on Sacramento for a Mental Health Parity rally outside the State Capitol Building.

``We can't wait any longer to fix this problem,'' said Alicia Cruz, a Kaiser therapist. ``I work with young people who are suicidal and self-harming, and our group sessions are so crowded that children and their parents have to sit on the floor. We just don't have the resources at our clinic to provide the services these people need, and Kaiser isn't doing anything about it.''

John Nelson, vice president of communications for Kaiser Permanente, condemned the planned walkout, accusing the union of putting ``bargaining tactics ahead of people who need mental health care by calling on our therapists to walk away from their patients.''

``We have been in active bargaining with the union for nearly a year, and in the last few weeks have jointly made great progress toward an agreement,'' Nelson said. ``We've heard their concerns regarding the dramatic increase in mental health care demand, the implications on their workload and the implications for our patients.

``We presented a comprehensive and generous offer that addresses the concerns we have heard from our therapists, including staffing and workload concerns, and also offers guaranteed wage increases that would keep Kaiser Permanente therapists among the highest paid mental health workers in California,'' he said.

But Nelson said the union responded with ``unreasonable'' financial demands then notified Kaiser of its plans to call the open-ended strike.

``We are asking our therapists not to follow the union's demand that they walk away from patients,'' Nelson said. ``We have been communicating directly to them about our offer and have received positive reaction. We will continue to engage with them, and we trust that when the time comes, they will do the right thing.''

According to the union, 4,000 Kaiser psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and addiction medicine specialists and other medical professionals will stage pickets outside dozens of Kaiser facilities from San Diego to Sacramento during the strike.

NUHW members staged a five-day statewide strike in December -- ``the largest mental health worker strike in U.S. history'' -- to demand that the HMO end what it described as long waits for patients to get therapy appointments.

In April, workers struck a Kaiser clinic where the union claims patients with severe mental health conditions routinely have to wait more than three months to see their therapists.

``Kaiser has ignored this problem for so long that it has created a full-blown crisis,'' NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. ``Our members remain ready to collaborate on solutions that will bring immediate relief to overburdened clinicians and under-served patients, but right now Kaiser still isn't treating mental health care as a top priority.''

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