OAKLAND, Calif., Nov. 13, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), the union representing 1,400 Kaiser Permanente mental health professionals in Northern California, is quietly advising its members to refuse to provide critical information that would assure the safest transition of care for mental health patients as therapists walk out during an open-ended strike beginning Monday, Nov. 16.
The union is asking therapists to leave with no return date, not to tell managers about patients who may be in urgent need of care, and union advocates are encouraging other therapists in the community not to see patients referred for care by Kaiser Permanente, regardless of the need for care.
In a confidential letter to therapists, the union's lawyer acknowledged: "We understand that many IBHS [union] members are concerned about your ethical obligations to your patients and about whether any patients will be harmed by the strike." But they went on to counsel therapists they should not "feel guilty" and offered that going on strike for weeks is no different than going "on vacation."
"Many therapists are rightly concerned about the union's tactics and irresponsible call for this strike," said Mason Turner, MD, director of Outpatient Services for Regional Mental Health, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. "The first rule of the medical profession is 'do no harm.' These actions by NUHW are clearly not taken in the spirit of this most important principle of care."
In addition to advising therapists to withhold information from managers about patient care, union advocates are also contacting community therapists outside the Kaiser Permanente system and asking them not to see Kaiser Permanente patients, even if the patient requires mental health care.
"The union claims their actions are about patient care. That is false," said Kaiser Permanente Senior Vice President of Human Resources Gay Westfall. "The reality is the only remaining major issues at the bargaining table are about wages and expectations of accountability. In both of these areas, the union is on shaky ground. Kaiser Permanente therapists already lead the market in wages, and we are already offering substantial wage increases and continued benefits that will keep our therapists among the best compensated in their profession."
Kaiser Permanente wants to assure our members that our medical centers will be open during the strike. We do not expect disruption to hospital and most outpatient services and we will ensure that there are no problems entering or exiting our buildings.
Anyone in need of urgent mental health care will receive the services they require. Mental health care will be provided for our members by skilled physicians and clinical managers, as well as by contracted high-quality mental health professionals in the community.
"Kaiser Permanente understands the value of the therapeutic relationship, so our preference is for patients to continue to see their own Kaiser Permanente therapist," said Turner. "Our hope is that our therapists will do the right thing and decide to come to work to care for their patients."
Therapists who choose to stay at work will see their currently scheduled patients. Any member affected by the strike will receive a phone call, and their individual needs for coverage during the strike can be discussed with one of our mental health clinical managers or mental health physicians. We have to cancel some non-urgent mental health appointments over the next few days as we evaluate our staffing levels and make appropriate adjustments to ensure our members' continued care.
About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 10 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.
Marc Brown, (510) 271-6328
SOURCE Kaiser Permanente