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Some 2,000 mental health care clinicians in California are on strike


Almost 2,000 mental health care workers have walked off the job in California. They work for Kaiser Permanente, and they want their employer to hire more people - more psychologists, more social workers. Here's Lesley McClurg of our member station KQED in San Francisco.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Care delayed is care denied.

LESLEY MCCLURG, BYLINE: Picketers in bright red shirts carry signs that read patient health, not corporate wealth. Naomi Johnson is a social worker in the East Bay. She says she's exhausted and angry.

NAOMI JOHNSON: I feel like every day I have to choose between either taking care of myself or taking care of my patients. And oftentimes what happens is neither of us gets taken care of.

MCCLURG: Johnson says nearly all of the managers in her clinic are leaving because they're burnt out.

JOHNSON: I want to be able to consult and think really deeply about what people need and help them towards their goals. And I can't really do that unless I overextend myself.

MCCLURG: The National Union of Health Care Workers is demanding Kaiser give providers more time to handle follow-up administration for patient visits. But the company says that would mean clinicians see fewer patients. Dr. Sameer Awsare is the director of mental health care at Kaiser.

SAMEER AWSARE: The union is well aware that its decision to strike is intended to hurt Kaiser Permanente's ability to meet the needs of our patients.

MCCLURG: The union says patients often have to wait four to eight weeks to get an appointment at Kaiser. That violates a new California law, which requires follow-up appointments within 10 days. For years, Barbara McDonald has struggled to get her 19-year-old daughter help from Kaiser.

BARBARA MCDONALD: She basically only gets care when she ends up in the ER.

MCCLURG: The teen has a history of cutting herself. She suffers from bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and ADHD.

MCDONALD: When she cut her throat in September - she has only seen a Kaiser psychiatrist two times since September, which is almost a year - two times in one year.

MCCLURG: Kaiser says it's trying to hire more providers, but the entire country is facing a shortage of mental health care workers.

For NPR News, I'm Lesley McClurg in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lesley McClurg