Bay Area parents and therapists blast Kaiser youth services

More than 2,000 mental health clinicians continued to strike at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Northern California on Tuesday to protest the health care provider’s “unethical” working conditions. On the front lines of the strike at Oakland Medical Center, SFGATE spoke to several therapists and psychologists who speak out against the inhospitable working conditions that allegedly harm patients and practitioners.

Alex Klein, a child psychologist who has worked at the Oakland Medical Center for seven years, said he was frustrated with Kaiser’s current practices and delays in care.

“If anything, it has gotten worse since Kaiser was unable to create decent working conditions for clinicians,” he said.

According to Klein, his colleagues are exhausted and leave completely. As staff dwindle, children with “high needs” who should be seen weekly sometimes wait two months or more for appointments. By failing to support clinicians, he said Kaiser subsequently failed to support children who were suicidal or had conditions such as PTSD, OCD, anxiety and depression.

In response to complaints from the picket line about understaffing, Kaiser said in a written statement that it has hired 200 new clinicians since January 2021 and spent $500,000 to recruit more staff. Representatives also say Kaiser will continue to prioritize urgent and urgent cases during the strike. “We are working hard to ensure that every patient who needs care this week receives it,” they wrote in another statement.

“Despite all we do, we, like others, are challenged to meet the demand and know that more needs to be done,” said Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente, in the press release. “We strive to continue to find new ways to meet the mental health needs of our members and patients.

The National Union of Health Care Workers – which represents striking clinicians – said enough progress had not been made. The union said Kaiser rejected a proposal that would have helped increase staff numbers and cut wait times for appointments. Despite Kaiser’s statements that he is committed to “negotiating in good faith,” therapists have said that sometimes the HMO doesn’t show up at all for their negotiation sessions.

Meanwhile, Klein said the pandemic is exacerbating the mental health crisis of young people, which is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes, according to government data. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from 2009 to 2019, high school students reported experiencing heightened feelings of sadness and hopelessness. The pandemic has aggravated the crisis. “We saw a huge increase in anxiety, depression, especially in young people – children and teenagers,” Klein continued.

Jason Lechner, a marriage and family therapist, and Charles Aquilina, a psychologist who works in addiction medicine, both agreed that the pandemic is increasing the need for mental health services for children and adults.

“It compounded an already difficult problem because access to care, access to return appointments and follow-up care was really an issue even before so many people needed it,” Lechner said. . Aquilina said physical isolation and excessive screen time affect young people in particular, and substance abuse among teens is also on the rise.

Due to long wait times and staffing issues, some parents said they could no longer rely on Kaiser at all.

A mother, Marie, who asked not to use her full name, called the level of care her teenage son received at the Vallejo Kaiser during a mental health crisis “deplorable”.

“Just talking to the psychiatrist assigned to him took an act of God,” she continued.

Although several professionals told her that her son needed to see a mental health practitioner at least two or three times a week, Marie said Kaiser only offered to see him once a month. She knew her son couldn’t afford to wait that long, and she set up a patchwork of services for him outside of Kaiser for about six years.

“We spent nearly $500,000 out of pocket until he turned 18 due to Kaiser’s lack of response and quality mental health care,” she wrote.

Over the phone, Marie told SFGATE she took her son to see doctors at Stanford and UCLA, paying $2,400 for three sessions in Northern California, then $45,000 for a month-long evaluation at the University of Utah. If her friend hadn’t given her a $200,000 personal loan, she says, she wouldn’t have been able to save her child’s life, but even that wasn’t enough. Amid other financial troubles during the pandemic, she had to sell her own home.

“We don’t have a pension now,” Marie said. “We spent what we had. But was it worth it? Sure. I always told my son that I would do whatever it takes to get him through.

Barbara McDonald, who spoke with SFGATE for a previous story, had a similar story. She spent $45,000 on services outside of Kaiser due to unpredictable cancellations and delays. “It seems completely negligent,” McDonald said.

“They need to throw away their textbook on how they work for adolescent psychology,” Marie said. “It’s excruciating.”

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