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Kaiser mental health care workers strike for patient care

Only union among 30 at Kaiser unwilling to reach contract settlement, Kaiser spokesman says

About 200 Kaiser Permanente mental health workers marched Friday morning through Oakland to Kaiser's corporate headquarters to demand the company increase its staff of mental health workers.

The march marked the fifth day of strikes among 2,600 mental health workers across California who are part of the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

The workers said that while patients are able to get a first appointment quickly, getting a follow up appointment takes too long.

The length of time can result in suicides, the workers claim.

"It's demoralizing," said 25-year veteran Kaiser psychiatric social worker Clem Papazian, who is president of the Norcal chapter of mental health clinicians, National Union of Healthcare Workers.

About 700 workers from other professions joined the strikes this week. Those included Northern California optical workers and Southern California healthcare professionals such as dieticians, speech pathologists and audiologists.

Kaiser's vice president of government relations John Nelson said in a statement today that Kaiser is committed to bargaining to avoid strikes.

Nelson said NUHW represents fewer than 5,000 Kaiser employees and is the only union among the 30 at Kaiser to be unwilling or unable to reach a

fair contract since workers created the union in 2009.

"NUHW has spent the last several years publicly attacking our mental health services, while at the same time resisting important steps we are taking to enhance mental health care for our patients," Nelson said.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

— Bay City News Service

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