OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Kaiser Permanente's 2,600 mental health clinicians will strike statewide in California today to protest what they call Kaiser's chronic failure to provide patients with timely, quality mental health care.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers notified Kaiser of its intent to strike on New Year's Eve.
The strike by psychologists, therapists and social workers will last a week, at 35 Kaiser outlets throughout California. It will be the nation's largest-ever mental health workers' strike .
The union claimed in an undated report that Kaiser systemically understaffs its psychiatry departments, resulting in illegally long waiting times for appointments. They claimed that Kaiser has occasionally falsified patients' records to conceal the long wait times.
In fact, the union claims, a Kaiser psychiatry chief sent an email on Jan. 2 ordering clinicians to delay care to mental health patients.
The state's Department of Managed Health Care fined Kaiser $4 million in 2013 for these practices. Kaiser agreed to pay the fine in September 2014.
But Kaiser has not taken steps to improve its practices, Clement Papazian, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser's Oakland facility and president of the NUHW's Northern California chapter of mental health clinicians, said in a telephone interview.
"It seems that Kaiser's primary way of generating income in psychiatry is to save on the labor costs," he said. "It's just gotten to the point where it's unsustainable in almost every way."
Kaiser said in a statement that it has contingency plans in place for the strike and was "disappointed" to receive the strike notice.
Kaiser said the strike "communicates that the union is more interested in disrupting care for thousands of members and patients and continuing its campaign to spread misinformation and disparage Kaiser Permanente's mental-health care than it is interested in bargaining constructively."
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