We are disappointed the leadership of the National Union of Healthcare Workers would ask our highly valued mental health staff to go out on strike, when we’ve been in active negotiations since the summer, having met in 16 bargaining sessions over 5 months, and with two more bargaining sessions scheduled for next week.
Importantly, there are no takeaways in our contract proposal. We are offering guaranteed wage increases which would keep our expert therapists among the best compensated in their profession, and continue to ensure that we attract and retain the most highly skilled professionals. The recently concluded contract also included three years of guaranteed wage increases, as well as bonuses. In 2015, NUHW represented employees received generous wage increases, pay scale adjustments, and bonuses (ranging from $5,000 to $10,000) to address the fact that the union had not reached a contract agreement for more than five years.
The union’s principal demands at the bargaining table have not been about improving care and access, but are about gaining even higher wages and benefits and demanding changes to performance standards that would reduce, not increase, the availability of mental health care for our members.
- The union wants to reduce the amount of time caregivers spend seeing patients. The current goal is an average of 75 percent of their time, which the union agreed in 2015. Striving for this industry standard is one of the key ways we’ve been able to increase access to care for our patients.
- The union is seeking to stop Kaiser Permanente from contracting with highly qualified community therapists. However, this is another key tool we’ve used to improve access for our members.
- Kaiser Permanente’s NUHW-represented mental health workers are currently paid significantly above the level of similar professionals in California. The union is demanding wage increases that would be even higher.
Alongside our therapists, Kaiser Permanente has been on a path to be the best mental health and addiction care program in the nation. We have been working productively over several years now to improve care and the care experience for our members. Over the last three years, in particular, we have demonstrated that by working together we can advance the quality and reach of our mental health care and create a more professionally supportive work environment. Among our many accomplishments are:
- Measuring Results. Kaiser Permanente is harnessing the power of measurement-based care to improve the outcomes of care for our members. This keeps the voice of our members front and center and helps advance our mental health care based on evidence of what works.
- Innovation. Driven by the preferences of our patients for ease of access and greater convenience, we are using more innovative technology, including tele-visits, to allow a patient to communicate with their therapist from the privacy and comfort of their home.
- Investing in People and Places. We have increased the number of therapists on staff by 30 percent since 2015, despite an ongoing, nationwide shortage of mental health professionals. In addition to adding staff, we have invested more than $175 million to build new care sites and refurbish others, all with the goal of providing high-quality mental health care in an environment that offers our patients convenience, comfort and privacy.
- Recognition. The California Office of the Patient Advocate has recognized these efforts, awarding KP Northern California its highest rating of five stars for behavioral health—the only health plan in the state to achieve this. KP Southern California was among only a few plans that achieved the next highest rating of four stars.
We are proud of the important advances we have made together over the last several years, and we will not let that progress be derailed because of union bargaining tactics by NUHW leadership.
It’s particularly disheartening that the union leadership would call this strike during the holiday season, when many of our patients with mental health needs may be at their most vulnerable. Even worse, we have just learned that the union is using pressure tactics on community-based caregivers to refuse to treat Kaiser Permanente patients during the strike. This is irresponsible and dangerously insensitive to the needs of people who find themselves in need of mental health care services during the week of December 10.
Strikes are not an effective bargaining tactic. They put patients, members and employees in a difficult situation, unnecessarily. We value our therapist colleagues and are sorry their union is putting them in this difficult position. We encourage union leaders to use the bargaining table as the place to address their proposals.
Should the union seek to carry out a strike, our teams have plans in place to deliver care and services to our members.