A strike that began Monday involving 2,000 mental health clinicians at Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California has led to more than a thousand canceled appointments for behavioral health services, according to the union and system.
About 1,600 follow-up therapy appointments have been canceled so far this week, the health system confirmed to Healthcare Dive in an email on Wednesday.
Some patients have opted out of visits with other therapists if those they’d previously had appointments with are on strike and unavailable, the system said.
Those who walked off the job include psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers who want measures in new contracts that allow for more manageable caseloads, among other items, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents those workers.
They say they’re stretched too thin and unable to provide adequate care to patients with mental health conditions, according to the union.
Workers raised the alarm over canceled appointments prior to the strike, citing internal emails and communications in a complaint to state regulators filed Thursday.
Under California law, if timely access to mental health care service is unavailable from in-network providers, health plans must arrange for care to be provided out-of-network.
The system said it’s currently reaching out to each patient with impacted appointments and prioritizing urgent and emergent cases while the strike continues. It also noted that several hundred therapists did not end up walking off the job, according to the email statement.
The strike is open-ended, with no set end date.
The California Department of Managed Health Care, which regulates the system, issued a notice Monday that it is monitoring access to mental health services for patients enrolled in Kaiser health plans that could be impacted by the strike.
The workers and system have been in negotiations for over a year and were near an agreement prior to the planned strike date. Although clinicians accepted a wage offer from Kaiser, they were unable to get provisions around staffing and wait times, according to the union.