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Latest News - January 2015

January 12, 2015
Union starts strike against Kaiser Permanente
By: Kathy Robertson

The union that represents 3,300 mental health, optical and medical-social workers at Kaiser Permanente prepared over the weekend to launch a week-long statewide strike Monday at 6 a.m.  The labor action called by the National Union for Healthcare Workers will affect 35 strike locations and 65 picket lines statewide, including Kaiser hospitals in Roseville, Sacramento and south Sacramento.

Any Kaiser patient who needs urgent care will be unaffected by the strike, Kaiser spokesman John Nelson said. But therapists reached out to others last week to reschedule appointments, as necessary.  "We are encouraging everybody not to stay out all seven days," Nelson said."We are asking employees to stay at work — and let us know if they plan to strike." Mental health workers, in particular, are asked to stay on the job. Their work is relationship-based — and you can't bring in help from outside, Nelson said.

The strike — slated to last until 6 a.m. on Jan. 19 — is in protest of what the union says is Kaiser's failure to staff its psychiatry departments and other areas with enough clinicians to provide timely, quality health care to its growing membership.  It also comes after more than four years of contentious collective bargaining. NUHW was formed in 2009, after a split with Service Employees International Union, but has not been able to nail down a contract with Kaiser.

The union says it's been trying for four years to draw attention to lengthy appointment delays at Kaiser. Kaiser was fined $4 million by the California Department of Managed Health Care in 2013 for mental health violations. The agency found that many Kaiser patients seeking mental health care were forced to wait for weeks. Kaiser appealed the fine but dropped the appeal in September 2014 and agreed to pay the $4 million.

Last week, NUHW came up with what it says is new evidence that Kaiser continues to force mental health patients to endure lengthy waits for care.  The information was sent to state regulators who said Friday they are reviewing it. Because if its earlier enforcement action, the Department of Managed Health Care has conducted a follow-up survey of Kaiser's behavioral health program. A report will be released soon.

"(The union) complains to DMHC on a regular basis," Nelson said. "We've addressed the issues and will continue to address them, but this is part of their corporate campaign. The union has a choice — and so do our employees. They can be constructive and work together with us o or they can choose to criticize, attack and obstruct us."



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