By Susie Steimle

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians expanded their picket lines to 14 locations in California on Wednesday, the third day of their five-day strike for more staffing and services for mental health services.

The Kaiser employees are picketing at 10 locations in Northern California, including seven in the Bay Area, and four in Southern California.

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Mental Health Workers at hospitals across the state went on strike Monday saying Kaiser does not provide adequate care for mental health patients.

“It’s very frustrating when I cannot book a patient with an initial face to face appointment for 5-6 weeks,” Matt Hannan a psychologist with Kaiser in South San Francisco.

He says he’s gone on strike four times in 13 years for the same reason, and that Kaiser has yet to fix the problem.

The picketing in Oakland on Tuesday drew 500 workers and it included a public forum for community members to speak about the consequences of mental health patients who are denied timely medical treatment appointments.

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents psychologists, therapists and social workers, says patients often wait more than a month for an appointment because there is only one full-time mental health clinician for every 3,000 Kaiser members in California.

Kaiser representatives say the union’s stance is not about improving health care for patients, but about seeking higher wages and benefits.

“The union is demanding changes to performance standards that would reduce, not increase, the availability of mental health care for our patients,” said Michelle Gaskill-Hames, chief nurse executive for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

Nurses are also walking off the job and joining the picket lines, which has led to rescheduled non-urgent surgeries.

“Its unfortunate we have to do this. Hopefully, they come to the bargaining table and we can work something out and get back to work,” said Margarita Baca, a nurse with Kaiser in Richmond.

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“I think this is a long run perspective. It’s not about this week, its about the healthcare of many for decades,” said Susan Lawrence, a Registered Nurse at the Richmond Kaiser. She works with new mothers as a nurse and lactation consultant.

“One big issue I see is postpartum depression, and they get referred to our psychiatric department and there’s no availability. We had a community mother who committed suicide in postpartum depression partially because she couldn’t access services to get help,” Lawrence said.

Kaiser expressed disappointment with the California Nurses Association for joining the picket lines.

“We apologize to any patient whose non-emergency surgical procedure has been affected by this strike. We want to be very clear that if we are unable to accommodate a patient’s surgery in 2018 due to this strike, and reschedule it for 2019, there will be no financial penalty – patient deductibles and other charges will be adjusted accordingly. We will be communicating this to each affected patient,” Kaiser said in a statement.

Striking workers say Kaiser pledged to improve appointment wait times three years ago but has failed to do so.

Kaiser has a history of accusations of inadequate care for mental health patients. The company paid out a $4 million settlement to the state in 2017 for deficient patient care.

Kaiser says it’s increased staff by 30% since 2015, which means more than 500 new therapists.

Wednesay’s picketing ended at 4 p.m., but picket lines will return Thursday and Friday, with Friday being the targeted last day for the strike.


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