The Mental Health Parity Act, Senate Bill 221, went into effect in July and requires health insurers to schedule appointments for mental health patients and drug users no later than 10 days after a prior meeting.
The American Psychological Association recommends weekly therapy for people with depression – twice that for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
This month-long strike is about patient care. Kaiser therapists want the organization to provide the same level of mental health care as it does medical services, according to a NUHW statement.
Striking therapists have now missed several paychecks as they stand by their terms.
“We will continue to strike until Kaiser stops toying with patients’ lives and works with therapists to create a system that provides patients with the care they need to get better,” said Kimberly Hollingsworth-Horner , therapist for Kaiser in Fresno.
Hollingsworth-Horner, who also works on the negotiation committee, said going a month without pay was “tough” but “nothing” compared to the months of waiting between therapy sessions that patients endured for years.
California fined Kaiser $4 million in 2013 for delaying and denying psychiatric care, but waiting times for psychiatric care have not improved.
NUHW said in a fact sheet on the strike that Kaiser has failed to increase staffing despite a surge in demand for mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, Kaiser appears to be bleeding clinicians: The union says 377 left the company between June 2021 and May 2022 in the Northern California area. Over 660 have resigned across the company.
A NUHW survey of more than 200 retiring physicians found that 80 percent found their workload unsustainable and 70 percent cited an inability to “treat patients in a manner consistent with standards of care and medical necessity.”
Rather than quit, clinicians on the picket line are working to change the way Kaiser runs his mental health department.
Melody Bumgardner, a psychologist who works at Kaiser Santa Clara and the Campbell Satellite, has worked for Kaiser for 22 years and said the organization had better working conditions there in its first decade, but that conditions and revenue have improved in recent years years have deteriorated.
“When I first started working here, we were fully staffed,” Bumgardner said Thursday at the picket line outside of Emperor San Jose. “It used to be difficult to get a job at Kaiser. People wanted to work here and people stayed for a long time. But over the past 10 years, the majority of people who start out have usually left before they’ve even been here for three or five years.”
Bumgardner said she has stayed with the company for so long because she really values working with the “diverse population” of patients she sees and the relationships she has built with colleagues over the past two decades. She also wants to see real change so Kaiser can use its “tremendous resources” to provide many timely mental health services to its members.
“We oppose Kaiser with this strike, and we stand up for patients who have been denied adequate mental health care for far too long,” said Jeffrey Chen-Harding, a licensed clinical social worker for Kaiser in San Francisco.
Despite Wednesday’s standoff, Kaiser has declined to schedule further negotiation sessions with the union and no further talks are currently scheduled. Kaiser officials were not immediately available to comment on recent negotiations with the union.