The National Union of Health Care Workers, which represents about 118 full-time and part-time Kaiser Permanente therapists in Sonoma County, has called a strike to protest a severe and ongoing staffing shortage they say is causing delays in care during a period of mental health. seizures.
A Kaiser mental health worker in Petaluma said Wednesday morning that more staff were quitting their jobs because Kaiser refused to increase their ranks to meet growing needs.
“The burnout is really intense because the sharpness and the intensity have increased, as well as the volume,” said Alexis Petrakis, a licensed clinical psychologist who works with children. “We are all trying to meet the needs of an ever-growing crisis with fewer and fewer resources because people are leaving.”
The local strike, scheduled for Monday, August 15, is part of a larger NUHW walkout in Northern California. The union, which is currently negotiating a contract with Kaiser, represents some 2,000 Kaiser mental health workers in Northern California.
Petrakis, who is part of the local bargaining team, said the union was due to meet again on Friday for negotiations.
Kaiser, in a statement, called the strike threat a “bargaining tactic” frequently used by the union over the past 12 years. Kaiser called the planned strike “puzzling” as the two sides were close to an agreement.
“In our last bargaining session, we were about 1% apart in our respective salary proposals, and we came to bargain last Friday in hopes of negotiating vigorously and concluding negotiations,” Kaiser’s statement read. . “Unfortunately, union leaders have come forward with a brand new economic proposal from NUHW that avoids reaching a deal and drives us further apart.”
But Petrakis said the main problem was not salaries but insufficient staffing levels. She said of her team of 70 mental workers, which serves the area between San Rafael and Petaluma, about 16 left in the last year alone.
Petrakis said the staff shortage is so severe that mental health workers are unable to see clients in a timely manner.
In the best-case scenario, she said, booking a 30-minute phone call within two weeks, although the average wait for such appointments is a month.
She said currently she is unable to see a returning patient for six weeks.
The union, which represents psychologists, therapists, chemical addiction counselors and social workers, said the strike was an effort to demand that Kaiser, the nation’s largest nonprofit HMO, provide health care mental health at the same level as medical care.
“Patients are being ripped off as Kaiser’s coffers are bloated,” Sal Rosselli, president of NUHW, said in a statement. “We don’t take the strike lightly, but it’s time to take a stand and get Kaiser to spend some of his billions on mental health care.”
Kaiser said the company hopes to resolve the dispute before a strike occurs, but said in its statement: “We regularly prepare comprehensive contingency plans and remain ready to ensure our members receive the care they need. need, if NUHW goes ahead with this strike”.
You can reach editor Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or [email protected] On Twitter @pressreno.