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Kaiser mental health workers strike Monday, demand culturally-sensitive care

Nearly 200 Kaiser mental health clinicians are striking Monday in Oakland to demand better care for communities of color, representatives of the National Union of Healthcare Workers said.

Psychologists, social workers, addiction counselors and marriage and family therapists from Oakland and Richmond were picketing Monday morning outside Kaiser’s Oakland hospital at 3600 Broadway.

At 10:30 a.m., the workers were scheduled to march to Kaiser’s headquarters at 1 Kaiser Plaza in Oakland and hold a rally there at 11:30 a.m. The strike will end after the rally, organizers said. No strike activity is taking place in Richmond.

Social worker Sabrina Chaumette, one of only five Black mental health clinicians providing care to adult Kaiser patients in Oakland, said in a statement:

Kaiser treats mental health care as separate and unequal to its medical care. … I appreciate that my clinic asks patients if they want to work with therapists who can provide culturally responsive care, but at Kaiser we just don’t have the numbers to do it. Because we’re so understaffed, my next available intake appointment is in four months.”

Workers are also striking because they were promised a paid holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and management backtracked on that promise, union organizers said.

Kaiser acknowledged there was a miscommunication and apologized after some employees at a department locally were told Monday would be a paid holiday.

In a survey of 1,500 Kaiser employees represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, 41 percent said that they have had patients find it challenging to access or maintain treatment because of a lack of a culturally-sensitive provider.

Jessica Dominguez, the founder and lead clinician at Kaiser Permanente’s La Clinica, a program in Richmond that serves Spanish speaking residents, said in a statement:

Kaiser tries to present itself as an enlightened organization, but that’s not the experience for Black and Brown therapists or patients. … We see an organization that won’t even take the smallest step to confront structural racism and shows no urgency to stop the continued departures of clinicians of color who can provide all of Kaiser’s patients with culturally competent care.”

Kaiser said it is in contract talks with the NUHW:

It is unfortunate that the union is using this important topic as a tactic to try to gain leverage in bargaining. … It is especially disappointing that they are asking our dedicated and compassionate employees to walk away from patients who need us. Every time we are in contract negotiations with NUHW, they strike and this time is no different.”

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