Over 2,000 mental health workers employed at multi-billion dollar healthcare consortium Kaiser Permanente have been on strike since August 15 to demand that the company hire more staff. Workers are picketing outside of Kaiser Permanente facilities across Northern California.
“They’re turning us into a patient assembly line,” Oakland therapist Ilana Marcucci-Morris told Waging Nonviolence. Workers organized in the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) are demanding that Kaiser utilize part of its substantial profits and reserves to hire more staff to provide more adequate care to patients.
In a video sent to the media, Kaiser claimed that the union’s proposal would significantly reduce the time available to care for patients. And yet, Kaiser itself has been accused by the American Psychological Association (APA) of subjecting patients to “extreme” wait times for follow up appointments. “Our concern is not only that Kaiser’s practices violate California law, but also that Kaiser patients risk being harmed by Kaiser falling far below professional standards of care,” the APA wrote in a 2020 letter. NUHW workers claim that “Kaiser is breaking California law and violating clinical standards by making patients wait months just to start therapy sessions and four to eight weeks between appointments.”
Because of these wait times, “Kaiser has been fined by state regulators for its lack of mental health care, sued by local prosecutors and is now facing a new state investigation following a sharp rise in patient complaints last year,” the union reveals.
More staff would fix the problem of long patient wait times, workers say. Kaiser reported $8.1 million in net profit last year, and has $54 billion in reserves. Workers argue that this amounts to more than enough money to invest in more staff. According to workers, Kaiser has rejected multiple union proposals to hire more staff.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent financial crisis has caused a worldwide mental healthcare crisis, triggering a 25% increase in anxiety and depression. Kaiser Permanente workers maintain that hiring more staff is a crucial way to tackle this crisis. This struggle will determine if Kaiser Permanente will continue to collect billions of dollars of profits without hiring staff for patient care.