Blog | Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When health care workers strike

In a relatively unusual development, mental health professionals who work for Kaiser Permanente in California went on strike.

At issue is the demand for mental health services, and the perception by the employees that they are understaffed, overworked, and not meeting their ethical obligation to see Kaiser patients in a timely fashion.

Job actions in the health care world are pretty uncommon, because of the direct impact they can have on day-to-day patient care. It's a fine line between taking a negotiating position and potentially harming the people that we've signed on to help.

In health care, perhaps the most prominent unionized workers are the nurses and/or service employees (food service workers, custodial employees, etc.), who generally belong to local chapters of national unions like National Nurses United (NNU), the National Federation of Nurses, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), just to name a few.

KQED radio health reporter April Dembosky covered the Kaiser story, and was featured on NPR's All Things Considered. She pointed out a couple of interesting reasons for the appointment backlog:
1. The Affordable Care Act has provided coverage to more than a million Californians who were previously uninsured, so demand has risen.
2. A state initiative has worked to reduce stigma associated with mental illness, which has also driven up demand, especially in the University of California system, site of another backlog.

I was lucky enough to interview Dembosky for Studio Tulsa on Health, our local public radio show, in which we explored this issue in more depth. If you're interested, you can hear it here.

This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is Interim President of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.