EMERYVILLE, Calif. (CN) - A Kaiser psychiatry chief sent an email on Jan. 2 ordering clinicians to delay care to mental health patients, the National Union of Healthcare Workers said.
The union said in a statement issued Thursday that the chief - posted at the Kaiser Fremont Medical Center in the East Bay - sent mental health clinicians an email entitled "Booking Instructions for Intakes," instructing them to separate psychiatric patients into two groups.
Patients in the "priority group" would receive appointments within two weeks, while patients in the "routine" group would wait longer, the union claims. An appointment waiting time exceeding two weeks violates California's timely access laws.
The psychiatry chief classified patients in the "priority" group as those who have made passive homicidal or suicidal statements, the union says.
His email also told clinicians that Kaiser's "Intensive Outpatient Program," a more thorough regime of outpatient psychiatric care for patients at risk of psychiatric hospitalization, would no longer be available, the union claims.
Clement Papazian, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser's Oakland facility and the president of the NUHW's Northern California chapter of mental health clinicians, told Courthouse News in a phone interview that the email's instruction to segregate patients "urges clinicians to break the law."
He also said that the patients placed in the "routine" group could drift closer to the condition of those in the "priority" group while they waited a lengthy time for an appointment.
"That's what we call euphemistically the balloon effect, or the interdependency effect," Papazian said. "People that are put onto paper lists of any kind have the potential to escalate and become worse. When you have people waiting too long for appointments, they become more acute."
NUHW says that these instructions are yet another indication of Kaiser's failure to adequately staff its mental health facilities and constitutes another "illegal downgrading" of its mental health services.
This chronic understaffing is why Kaiser's 2,600 mental health clinicians will begin a statewide strike on Jan. 12, the union claims.
The strike will be the nation's largest-ever mental health workers' strike.