Concerns of patients increased amid Bay Area Caesars strike

As Kaiser Permanente physicians in Northern California enter the second month of an ongoing strike, a growing number of patients are saying that despite an HMO’s legal obligation to provide timely access to mental health care, they are unable to return to work. Have been unable to obtain appointments during the stay.

The California Department of Managed Health Care, which began an investigation into Kaiser’s Behavioral Health Services last month, said its support center was called between Monday, August 15 and Saturday, September 3 for patients struggling to find care through Kaiser. About 100 complaints have been received. Latest data available.

Lisa Rubio, who lives in San Rafael and has been attending weekly sessions with her cancer doctor for the past eight years, said her appointments ended abruptly in mid-August. Rubio told his doctor his primary form of emotional support was through a liver cancer diagnosis last year. Kaiser has offered her little assistance since the strike began, even as she awaits the results of an MRI and other tests related to abnormal growth in her liver. If the HMO were to offer her an appointment with a new doctor—which they haven’t—she’s not sure she’d take it.

“It derailed my life,” she told SFGATE. “I don’t see how someone who doesn’t know me can help me. … Repeating it again would be harder than going through it alone.”

Still, she doesn’t hesitate to go on strike to fight for better working conditions.

“I could tell he was overworked. I’m a caregiver and I’m 63. I know when something’s wrong,” she said. “I kept asking him why he doesn’t look good. One day during the session, he finally told me, ‘I’m not sick, I’m working nights.'”

Alexis Petrakis, a child psychologist for Kaiser who works with patients in Petaluma and San Rafael, said she “didn’t expect to be on strike for so long,” but until Kaiser was able to provide her patient care. Will not return to work until the standards improve. Staffing levels and unstable working conditions, leading to a retention crisis. According to regional data provided by the National Union of Healthcare Workers last month, 377 physicians based in Northern California left their jobs at Kaiser between June 2021 and May 2022.

“We want to go back to work. My teammates and I are ready. But we are certainly not ready to return to the status quo,” Petrakis told SFGATE on Tuesday afternoon on his way home from the picket line in San Rafael. “People are in need of more frequent care and support and as it stands, our system cannot accommodate that in any way.”

Petrakis is optimistic about the ongoing bargain, which reopened today after a month without any official meeting between Kaiser and union representatives.

Petrakis said, “I’m hoping that we can really come to a place of mutual agreement and understanding, and come to a fair contract, so that patients can get the care they need and deserve. ” “We want a resolution.”

On August 16, 2022, Kaiser Permanente activists strike at Oakland Medical Center to protest the HMO’s “unethical” working conditions.

Ariana Bindman / SFGATE

Dave, who lives in Vacaville and requests to use only her maiden name to discuss personal medical issues, said her daughter, who is in her 20s, is seeing a doctor for depression and anxiety. was being She was also in the middle of a 12-week intensive group therapy program related to trauma when the strike began. Both her individual appointments and her group sessions were canceled without being rescheduled; She hasn’t seen a doctor in four weeks now.

“Mental health issues don’t go away, they get worse,” he told SFGATE over the phone on Monday. “She has made it very clear that she is having a very difficult time trying to survive. … We feel like there is no alternative.

Even before the strike, Dave said her daughter was only able to see her doctor once every three or four weeks. Because her group therapy sessions were partially postponed, she is concerned that she will have to start over with a trauma program.

“It’s got to be tough before it gets better, and she was in for the hard part” [of the program],” Dave said. “She wasn’t even able to go to the other side where she could learn how to face and manage issues. [Kaiser] Really dropped the ball at the worst possible time. ,

Kaiser Permanente Physician at the picket line.
Kaiser Permanente Physician at the picket line.

Matt Artz

In a statement, Kaiser told SFGATE that it was using every resource available to ensure that the mental health needs of his enrollees were met during the open-ended strike, and that he sought alternative care. None of the appointments were canceled without expanding the options of the When asked how many appointments have been cancelled, how many doctors are on strike and how many outside doctors are being brought in, Kaiser declined to comment.

“About 50% of our dedicated physicians are taking care of members rather than strike,” a Kaiser spokesperson said by email. “In addition, our Kaiser Permanente psychiatrists, clinical managers and other licensed physicians have stepped in to meet with those in need of care. We doze off on a temporary basis to help care for patients during the strike. We have brought skilled doctors.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents striking physicians and filed an official complaint with the Department of Managed Health Care prior to the strike, believes Kaiser is overestimating the number of physicians who are at the picket line. are exceeding, and this has been done illegally canceling and postponing appointments. Last month, Kaiser therapist Sarah Soroken called SFGATE Kaiser’s actions to violate state laws such as Senate Bill 221, which took effect in July and requires that insurance companies like Kaiser give medical patients 10 days of their request. Provide follow-up appointment within. Senate Bill 855, which took effect in January 2021, likewise places health insurance companies under an obligation to provide full coverage for all mental health conditions.

“This strike is about patient care,” union president Sal Rosalie told SFGATE in a statement. “Kaiser Permanente makes patients wait months for therapy sessions in violation of state law, and Kaiser officials lie about the care available to patients when their only focus is on the bottom line. Kaiser’s mental health practitioners has sacrificed a month’s salary to fight for its patients, but Kaiser officials don’t care about patients whose premiums fund their seven-figure salary.”

On August 16, 2022, Kaiser Permanente activists strike at Oakland Medical Center to protest the HMO’s “unethical” working conditions.

Ariana Bindman / SFGATE

Nam Nguyen, a Kaiser employee living in Benicia, was seeing a doctor for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She told SFGATE that her regularly scheduled appointments and support group were put on hold at the start of the strike. It was only after reaching out to an attorney from the Department of Managed Health Care that she was able to get an appointment with a physician.

Nguyen said he had called Kaiser on the first day of the strike to request some sort of interim remedy; She was referred for an outpatient partial hospitalization program, but they never called. When she reached out to Kaiser again to ask what was going on and to see if she could request an in-person medical appointment or access to a support group, they sent her to the emergency department. About two weeks later, an attorney from the Department of Managed Health Care intervened and was able to get her into an intensive outpatient program run by an outside provider.

“I struggled with suicidal thoughts because I didn’t talk to anyone,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said he knew what steps to take to get hired because he is a Kaiser employee. He worries about how people without that background are handling the ongoing disruptions.

“It was quite difficult for me to go through the system. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for anyone else,” she said. “They set up a good patchwork program to stabilize me, but it’s not a long-term solution. I’m just waiting for my therapist to come back.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:19 a.m. on September 15 to correct the timeline of Nam Nguyen’s experience at Caesars.

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