Thousands of Northern California Kaiser mental health clinicians have been on strike since Monday, advocating for better mental healthcare for their patients. This comes after a year of failed negotiations between the union and Kaiser to increase staffing and provide more timely care to patients.
These clinicians understand first-hand the importance of adequate access to mental health services. Anxiety and depression levels are on the rise. Deaths of despair, whether from overdoses or suicide, are increasing. And the pandemic has made the already existing crisis of mental health even worse.
Although Kaiser made lofty profits last year, there is still just one mental health clinician for every 2,600 patients, according to the union. Patients are having to wait eight weeks between care, when they should be seen weekly. Other patients have to wait months to even schedule an appointment. Meanwhile, impossible caseloads are causing some therapists to throw their hands up and leave.
“We’re serving a strike notice because our patients aren’t receiving needed services,” said Shay Loftus, a Kaiser psychologist who is on strike. “We’re not willing to be part of a system that disrespects the work we do and prevents us from providing ethical care.”
As another therapist, Sarah Soroken, stated: “Patients are suffering. They’re not getting better; they’re getting worse. Some are experiencing worsened prognoses or suicide attempts. Therapists are being forced to practice their trade in a way that violates their profession’s code of ethics and state and federal mental health parity laws.”
Kaiser has already been fined 4 million dollars by state regulators for its lack of mental health services. It has also been sued by local prosecutors, and is currently under investigation due to a rise in patient complaints. Additionally, clinicians have gone on short-term strikes and filed whistle-blower complaints.
Nothing else has worked – so, in order to give their patients the care they deserve, mental health workers are taking the fight into their own hands. If Kaiser is going to fully staff the clinics and end dangerously long wait times for care, it will be because the people who do the work forced them to.
Here you can find more information about the strike, and locate a picket line near you.