Kaiser Permanente mental health providers voted 1,561 to 36 to ratify a new employment contract that they said would radically improve the company’s ability to hire and retain people working in their field.
The vote officially ends the longest strike by mental health workers in U.S. history after 10 weeks, leaders of the National Union of Health Care Workers of Northern California said Thursday. Picketing workers endured record heat for several days of their protests.
Union members Jennifer Browning, Jenny Butera and Kenneth Rogers said the action at work was exhausting but ultimately paid off. The company and the union had negotiated wage increases before the strike began, but were at an impasse over the changes the therapists wanted to improve working conditions.
“It took much longer than it should have to reach this agreement, but, in the end, we were able to achieve the significant improvements in patient care that Kaiser negotiators told us to achieve. the other side of the bargaining table that they would never accept,” said Browning, a licensed clinical social worker for Kaiser in Roseville. “At a time when there are so few appointment cancellations because we are seeing patients from a distance, giving us plenty of time to complete all of our patient care tasks is going to help keep many of us on our toes. Kaiser, and it’s going to help Kaiser hire more therapists.
Kaiser’s management chose not to comment on Thursday, but it had released a joint statement with NUHW on Tuesday, saying it was pleased to have reached a tentative agreement.
The four-year deal gives Kaiser’s more than 2,000 therapists nearly two more hours each week to perform critical patient care tasks, Rogers said, essentially the same increase in time the union had sought when the negotiation of two previous contracts.
“Patients couldn’t be seen because the staff weren’t good, because people were leaving KP,” said Rogers, a psychologist who practices in Elk Grove. “By making peace with the union, there is a real opportunity for KP to start rehabilitating its image around employee job satisfaction. … If you don’t have enough time to do your job, you’re not going to stay with that employer. This is the bottom line.
Therapists will now have around seven hours a week to deal with things like answering emails and voicemails from patients, adjusting treatment plans, communicating with social service agencies or court officers and schedule appointments, the union said.
Butera said staff are so exhausted that her clients are waiting two months between appointments.
“These are regular therapy sessions where the standard of care is that you provide therapy weekly or every other week,” Butera said, “and it’s only about 12 to 15 sessions that a person develops this therapeutic bond with the therapist and trusting the therapist.and they would start working on things…(and) eventually get better.At best, we could probably see a patient six times a year.
Kaiser will hire more therapists
As part of the contractual agreement, Kaiser has agreed to hire additional therapists and expand treatment programs that allow some patients greater access to appointments over a shorter treatment period.
If Kaiser makes the necessary number of hires, Rogers said, he and other mental health clinicians will know because they’ll see clients with greater frequency over a one-year period. and therapists will not routinely work 60 hour weeks to meet patient needs.
“A patient that maybe I haven’t had time to see in four weeks, now I have time to see three or two,” Rogers said. “I’m going to notice these kinds of changes based on our hiring and retention practices over the next few years.”
As part of the working agreement, Kaiser also said he would work with therapists to expand the availability of crisis services at his clinics and increase the time therapists who work with children have to complete initial assessments. .
13% salary increase over four years
Kaiser leaders also agreed to form five labour-management committees to study areas such as patient reception, child and family therapy and crisis care over the next six months. In testimony to officials and interviews with The Bee, Kaiser members said the company’s admissions process hampered their efforts to get help for themselves, their children, or both. .
Rogers said he’ll likely end up serving on at least one of the committees, and he said he’s optimistic that Kaiser wants to do the work to improve patient care in his behavioral services unit. The company has been the target of two state investigations into customer complaints about behavioral healthcare.
The NUHW has been without a new contract for just over a year and Kaiser has agreed to make the salary increases retroactive. They will receive increases of 4% for the first year of the agreement and 3% for each of the following three years. The company will also pay a flat premium of 1% in the second and fourth year of the contract. Bilingual therapists will receive an additional salary of $1.50 per hour, instead of $1 per hour, as part of the company’s efforts to ensure patients have access to medical workers who speak a language they are comfortable using.
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