EMERYVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- Mental health care workers at various Northern California Kaiser Permanente locations started striking Monday to demand better working conditions. They want the health care provider to hire more mental health care workers to meet the growing demand for patient care.
"We want Kaiser to really step up and do more for our patients," said Simran Vridee, an initial assessment coordinator. "Right now, with Kaiser's mental health services, patients are having to wait weeks... months for an initial appointment."
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The workers are part of the National Union of Healthcare Workers who are in current labor negotiations with Kaiser Permanente. The workers on strike say this is not about money, but about easing the burden put on the current staff.
"We need more time to do research and call and follow up with patients," said Joseph Crivello, a psychological associate. "We need to be able to provide the best care to all patients."
Kaiser Permanente says the strike is unnecessary. They say leaving right now is not the best way to care for mental health patients.
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"This strike is not about access to health care as the union says," said Sameer Awsare, the associate executive director for Kaiser Permanente. "The union's proposal to reduce time seeing patients comes a time when we are faced with a 30% increase in demand for mental health care."
Kaiser Permanente says there is a nationwide shortage of health care workers, and they have made attempts in hiring more of them. The workers on strike say Kaiser Permanente has the resources to do better. They will remain on strike indefinitely.
"They earned over $8 billion last year" Crivello said. "Kaiser does have the resources and the ability to become the number one mental health care leader and we are trying to help expedite that process."
In December 2019, 4,000 Kaiser mental health workers statewide launched a five-day strike, demanding that Kaiser shorten patient wait times and reduce therapist caseloads.
Unlike that action, Monday's strike is open-ended.
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