OAKLAND, California – More than 2,000 striking mental health doctors struck pickets in front of Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California and Central Valley on the morning of August 29, when they began the third week of strike to demand the giant staff of the ‘HMO in order to provide timely medical care to its millions of enrolled patients.
And that day, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, addiction medicine counselors, and marriage and family counselors, members of the National Union of Health Care Workers, were joined by dozens of colleagues in Hawaii who are facing problems of lack of health. even greater staff.
In Northern California and Central Valley, where Kaiser keeps one doctor for every 2,600 patients, the doctors’ contracts expired last September. In Hawaii, where Kaiser has one doctor for every 5,500 patients, the HMO has repeatedly suspended negotiations since therapists first formed their union in 2018.
Picketing on Monday in front of the Kaiser’s flagship Oakland Medical Center was authorized by clinical social worker Ilana Marcucci-Morris, a member of the NUHW Bargaining Committee, who sees patients when they first seek mental health care .
Mental health “is a physical health problem. We have to treat it as a physical health issue, “he said.” I’m here to make sure the community’s mental health is here. A multi-billion dollar profiteer like Kaiser has the resources to do the right thing, so I’m asking them to do just that. ” .
Asked about Kaiser’s claims about a generalized shortage of mental health therapists, Marcucci-Morris replied that the real shortage is “the doctors willing to work for Kaiser. I have a lot of colleagues and friends I worked with in graduate school, community mental health, just simple friendships, who need and want work, but when I suggest Kaiser, they laugh at me: ‘Absolutely not! I’m not going to dig my own grave! ‘
“There is no shortage of mental health workers, there is no shortage of mental health workers willing to accept Kaiser’s working conditions.”
Along the way, another doctor remarked on the long history of the struggle for a truly productive work environment. “We have been on strike many times over the years,” he said. “Really, what we face on a daily basis is not being able to provide adequate care. We have been trained to perform particular treatments to help people heal and, ultimately, we have not been able to see our patients with the necessary consistency so that they can receive those treatments as they were designed. “
A longtime, but soon to become, former Kaiser patient marching with picketing doctors described a life-long struggle with a serious illness that requires extensive medication. He talked about having to pay out of his own pocket for the one treatment that provided him with great relief, after receiving mixed and inaccurate messages from Kaiser about his availability.
“I really appreciate everything the therapists and hiring people are doing,” she said, “and I am deeply moved that they did not receive the salary during this period because they believe in patient care. Now I have other assurances that will support my care a little better. “
A psychologist said she joined Kaiser’s mental health medical staff about 22 years ago, after years as a university professor, because “the ethics of the company and the department I worked in was about being the best place to getting treatment, really trying to improve mental health and health in general. We were the avant-garde at Kaiser, doing things on a large, systemic level. “
But later, he said, “when we moved on to making millions and then billions, I think the whole structure changed and instead of wanting to be the best, we wanted to make more money. I don’t think the point was giving bad care, but surely anything would raise money for us.
Now, he said, “People dictate from a business standpoint rather than an experience standpoint. And I don’t think they’ve given adequate respect to the people online.”
Under the laws of the state of California, Kaiser is required to provide timely medical care to its members even during a strike, a responsibility emphasized prior to the doctors’ current action by Mary Watanabe, director of the Department of Managed Health Care, who oversees operators. sanitary ware in the state.
On August 24, the DMHC announced it had initiated targeted enforcement action against Kaiser, based on patient complaints that the HMO was violating these requirements during the first weeks of the strike.
NUHW President Sal Rosselli said union members were glad state authorities were “taking a closer look” at Kaiser’s illegal denial of care and called for “swift action” to enforce the laws.
“The suffering and neglect that Kaiser patients have endured in the past two weeks are unnecessary, illegal and yet can be easily remedied,” Rosselli said in a statement. “Kaiser’s executives must obey the law, serve patients and end the strike by agreeing to work with us to operate properly and staff its clinics. It is time for Kaiser to respect the importance of mental health care and radically change his approach to the way he treats both patients and doctors. “
The next day, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 858, by state Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and sponsored by the Health Care Consumer Advocacy Coalition Health Access. If signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, SB 858 will increase the fines healthcare workers have to pay for violating mental health equality laws from the current $ 2,500 to $ 25,000 per accident.