The Five-Year Dispute Between the National Union of Healthcare Workers and Kaiser Permanete Comes to a Close to The Benefit of Thousands of Healthcare Workers

Jennifer Melendez

On November 15, 2015, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and the health insurance company Kaiser Permanete (Kaiser) arrived at a tentative agreement ending a 5 year dispute regarding employee compensation and patient treatment.

In November of 2011, NUHW’S health care clinicians made a complaint on behalf of their patients, which prompted a 15-month investigation by the state. The investigation resulted in the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) finding that Kaiser’s patients endured illegally long waiting periods for their treatments and were refused access to care, in violation of California’s Mental Health Parity Act and that Kaiser clinicians were instructed to falsify appointment times to hide those long waits. The DMHC fined Kaiser $4 million for these infractions. The DMHC states:

California law prohibits health plans from imposing any waiting or affiliation period on group health coverage, other than imposed by the employer sponsoring the group health   plan. Waiting periods for pre-existing conditions are prohibited.

Despite the sanction and fines, Kaiser allegedly failed to correct these issues, resulting in 2,600 Kaiser employees striking in January 2015. In May 2015, Kaiser fired clinician Alex Wang for writing “Patient should be seen sooner” on a patient’s chart. This action incited the dispute between NUHW and Kaiser. NUHW’s press release states:

Under the new agreement Kaiser clinicians – psychologists, psychiatric social workers and marriage and family therapists – will be free to advocate for their patients and meet  their treatment needs without threat of discipline or discharge.

On November 16, 2015, employees threatened to strike again, which provoked Kaiser to finally move forward with a tentative agreement the day before the potential strike.

Additionally, Kaiser agreed to abide to a 1:4 ratio of new patients to return patients to ensure consistent, timely access to continued mental health care for Kaiser members. Clement Papazian, psychiatric social worker at Kaiser Oakland and president of NUHW’s Northern California chapters states:

Kaiser has opened the door to a positive working relationship with us with the goal of providing timely, quality care to our patients by hiring hundreds more mental health professionals. It’s a positive first step.

Doctors and social workers should have the right to advocate for their patients without fear of retaliation. In New York, healthcare providers have  specialized whistleblower laws designed to protect them when advocating for their patients’ safety.

If you feel you have been terminated out of retaliation for filing a complaint, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.