Kaiser's mental health therapists went on strike for better care for patients, and have finally reached an agreement on a four year contract.

[Mara Cavallaro is El Tecolote’s Report for America Corps Member who reports on mental health and healthcare inequality in the Latinx community; photo by Jeremy Word]

In August, El Tecolote reported on Kaiser’s mental health clinician strike, and the long wait times, high turnover rates, and inadequate multilingual care policies that prompted it. Last Tuesday, after two months of striking, therapists reached an agreement with the HMO. Their new four year contract matches Kaiser’s wage offer from prior to the strike, and has several key patient-related provisions.

First, therapists will be allocated two additional hours per week for “patient care duties,” including responding to patient phone calls and developing treatment plans. Crisis services will be expanded and introduced to nearly all clinics. And critically, Kaiser has made a commitment to “hire more therapists and expand its new treatment track programs,” according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). 

Currently, wait times for appointments at Kaiser can be as long as eight weeks—a clear violation of SB 221, a law requiring timely mental health care that went into effect this July. To establish a system that ensures all patients are seen within ten days of an urgent appointment request, Kaiser has agreed to implement the recommendations of five labor management committees that are set to meet over the next six months.

“Any successful collaboration will require Kaiser’s total commitment to devote the resources necessary to meet California’s timely access to care requirements. We expect Kaiser to follow the law, and we expect the state to enforce it,” Oakland-based social worker Ilana Marcucci-Morris said of the committees. Even so, she told the NUHW, “This contract puts us on much stronger footing to work with Kaiser to help it become a great place to give and receive mental health care.”