July 9, 2019

Statement on NUHW strike in San Francisco

Kaiser Permanente’s response to NUHW’s call for therapists to walk out on patients on July 10.

Statement by Ron Groepper, Senior Vice President and Area Manager, Kaiser Permanente Greater San Francisco:

It is disappointing that once again the leadership of the National Union of Healthcare Workers is calling on our mental health therapists to walk away from their patients. Kaiser Permanente has been in bargaining with NUHW for over a year and our therapists have been voting on Kaiser Permanente’s comprehensive proposal that reflects the input of their bargaining team. Our offer will keep our therapists the best compensated in California, increase the number of therapists, and make more time in therapists’ schedules to see patients.

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As a bargaining tactic, NUHW is holding a 1-day strike at our San Francisco ambulatory clinic location. We have plans in place to avoid service disruption and to ensure that any member in San Francisco with an urgent need will continue to receive high-quality mental health services during the strike. Members with nonurgent mental health appointments scheduled on the day of the strike were contacted in advance to have their appointment rescheduled. We apologize to our members for this inconvenience and regret that union leaders are deliberately placing our patients in the middle of a labor negotiation and sacrificing the needs of our patients as bargaining chips.

Meeting the increased demand for mental health services is a national challenge that faces all health care providers, not just Kaiser Permanente. A key part of the contract negotiations has been working with our therapists to address this increase in demand among our members. We and our therapists agree that the current demand cannot be met just by hiring more therapists, so in addition to proposing meaningful provisions to address staffing, scheduling, and compensation improvements, we have offered our commitment to collaborating with our therapists to redesign the mental health model of care — an effort that our therapists have supported and expressed a strong desire to undertake together.

However, NUHW is issuing mischaracterizations and inaccuracies about our San Francisco child and family mental health services and we want to set the record straight:

  • Kaiser Permanente San Francisco is currently meeting state regulations for first-time mental health appointments within 10 days.
  • We have increased our child therapist staffing over the last several years and are aggressively recruiting to fill all open positions, despite the shortage of qualified mental health professionals in California and the country. To address this shortage, Kaiser Permanente has committed $50 million over the next 3 years to increase the number of people entering, developing, and remaining in the mental health professions.
  • We have expanded access to mental health care by embedding therapists in our primary care and pediatric clinics — making it possible for a child or adult to be seen initially by a therapist right in the doctor’s exam room if requested.
  • We also offer initial appointments by phone and video, and in the child psychiatry department, depending on the family’s preference and needs.
  • Assessments are always conducted by mental health professionals (psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists) who are trained and licensed to conduct assessments of children.
  • Our group therapy sessions are not overcrowded. In the one instance we are aware of, we immediately created a separate new program to accommodate the number of patients. We anticipate adding more than 60 new offices for our mental health providers as part of Kaiser Permanente’s $450 million investment over 5 years to expand access to care with new and refreshed mental health and wellness facilities in Northern California.
  • With the input of our therapists, we have hired a new manager in San Francisco for our child mental health services, who has broad clinical and management experience.

In some cases, our efforts have been met with resistance by NUHW, as when the union attempted to block Kaiser Permanente from offering families the option to have an initial appointment with a therapist by telephone.

Kaiser Permanente is absolutely committed to meeting our members’ needs and to our mental health professionals’ success. We have a deep appreciation for the essential care our therapists provide every day. We urge NUHW leaders to work constructively to reach an agreement, so we can work together with our therapists on the critically important work that lies ahead.