July 15, 2019

Statement on NUHW rejected contract

We urge NUHW leaders to work constructively to propose a path forward, so we can work together with our therapists on the critically important work that lies ahead.

Kaiser Permanente has been in contract negotiations with the National Union of Healthcare Workers — the union that represents about 4,000 of our mental health care and other professionals — for over a year. Through those discussions, we made tremendous progress to address the dramatic increase in the demand for mental health care, as well as our therapists’ other concerns. Our proposal:

  • Addressed staffing and scheduling concerns with concrete increases in hiring more therapists, bringing in interim staff and support staff, and proposed changes in scheduling. These combined to address immediate, mid-and long-term staffing and access challenges
  • Included significant investments to increase the number of people entering mental health care professions, and staying and growing in their chosen fields
  • Proposed a collaborative workgroup to redesign the mental health model of care — an effort that our therapists have supported and expressed a strong desire to undertake together
  • Would keep our therapists among the best compensated in California

NUHW announced the rejection of the contract on July 11. With the union leadership recommending employees reject the proposed contract, we are disappointed but not surprised by this outcome. Now we will wait to hear from union leadership about what they believe are the remaining bargaining issues. 

We notified our employees in early June that we would be moving forward on key items in our proposal to address the increased demand for mental health care and the shortage of mental health care professionals. Even though the union has not agreed to a new contract, we informed them this week that we are making progress, including:

  • Hiring, staffing and patient access: We have been actively recruiting for 200 additional mental health staff and in early July added 300 new positions in California. We are also bringing in interim and short-term therapist resources to assist us in meeting immediate demands while we extend this recruitment for permanent positions. We’ve brought in even more recruiters and talent scouts dedicated to this aggressive hiring push.
  • Building a pipeline of future mental health professionals: We’re moving forward with a $10 million expansion of our post-graduate training program across California, to better position Kaiser Permanente as a premier mental health learning organization and to make us the place where mental health professionals want to train, work, and enjoy a long career. We expect to open enrollment for this expanded program in the next few months, with a goal of approximately 300 people enrolled statewide. We are also developing a new graduate degree program for employees who are planning to attend master’s or doctoral programs. This $30 million statewide initiative could enable additional education and greater personal and professional growth. 
  • Improving facilities and treatment spaces: We are accelerating our work on the more than $700 million in projects to expand and update our mental health care offices, with the goal of increasing care accessibility, convenience, comfort, and privacy. This work will more rapidly expand the number of therapist offices, group rooms, and telepsychiatry seats. 

We believe these actions are essential, and we’re moving forward quickly.

Without a ratified contract, however, we cannot move forward with the aspects of our contract proposal that would have addressed and relieved many of the immediate concerns and daily challenges of our employees. This includes the significant provisions to improve scheduling, increase compensation (both pay and benefits), provide student loan repayments, and other contract provisions.

It also means we are delayed in launching our collaborative, intensive work group of therapists and management to advance innovation and redesign the way psychotherapy is delivered in the future. Meeting the increased demand for mental health services is a national challenge that all health care providers face, not just Kaiser Permanente. We and our therapists agree that this challenge cannot be met just by hiring more therapists, so in addition to proposing meaningful ways to address staffing and scheduling improvements, we have proposed launching a 6-month intensive, collaborative work group to redesign the mental health model of care — an effort that our therapists have supported and expressed a strong desire to undertake together. This work group will focus on developing innovative approaches to using feedback-informed care; enhancing our ability to provide effective, evidenced-based care; and on integrating exciting new approaches to care, including telehealth and digital therapeutics.

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 propose a path forward, so we can work together with our therapists on the critically important work that lies ahead.