Kaiser's Mental Health Patients Struggle as Strike Continues
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Kaiser Mental Health Patients Struggle as Strike Continues

By Melissa Darling

Contributing Writer for Telegraph Local | See

Kaiser Permanente Medical Center has been taking the heat from its employees during a strike that started on Monday. Kaiser health professionals began to strike, and patients are beginning to struggle. This strike includes about 4,000 health care professionals ranging from psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses and other healthcare professionals who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

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The reason behind the uproar, according to the staff, is the broken mental health system. This damaged system leaves patients waiting months for appointments, and its therapists overwhelmed with unbearable caseloads. To make matters worse, this is not the first time the workers have gone on strike because of an issue. There was another 5-day strike in December last year as well. Michelle J. Gaskill-Hames, the senior vice president of hospital and health plan operations for Kaiser Permanente, issued a statement on Friday. She said Kaiser has been working with an external, neutral mediator in order to try and reach a collective bargaining agreement with the NUHW. That mediator came to both parties with a compromise that was being considered. Gaskill-Hames said “However, the union has rejected it and announced plans to strike instead of working through the mediated process.”

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Pediatric psychologist, Michael Torres, works in the San Leandro clinic. He spoke out on the issues that he has faced at this medical center. Torres has worked at Kaiser for 17-years, and says he has seen little change when it comes to on-going therapy. Torres is so overworked and overpacked in his schedule, that he is only able to see his patients every 4-6 weeks. This is regardless of the fact that a child may be experiencing major depression, and should be seen weekly. Torres said “It’s heartbreaking, it only exacerbates conditions, prolongs symptoms, and professionally it’s just unethical.” Torres has his own private practice in which he opened up a door for Kaiser patients to see him more frequently, but with out-of-pocket payment. “You then skew those getting better services to those who can afford it,” he said.

During this time of the strike, Kaiser remains open for patients.  Gaskill-Hames said that anyone that is in need of urgent mental health or other care will receive that care. She also said that, if necessary, Kaiser will reschedule some “non-urgent appointments.” If conditions at Kaiser do not get better though, patients and employees alike will continue to suffer.

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