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The Kaiser Strike and the Impact on Patients

Over 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente medical facilities will strike from October 4 to 7 if a contract deal isn't reached by September 30, potentially impacting more than 12 million patients.

On September 22, after a final failed bargaining session, healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente issued a 10-day unfair labor practice strike notice to Kaiser executives. The strike could potentially impact hundreds of Kaiser facilities in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and Washington D.C. If it happens, it will be the most significant healthcare strike in United States history.

According to a Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions press release, in April, the unions initiated a nationwide negotiation process, anticipating the expiration of their contract on September 30. This negotiation follows their previous contract discussions in 2019, which occurred before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union says the pandemic exacerbated working conditions and heightened the healthcare staffing crisis, placing frontline healthcare workers in challenging circumstances.

Dave Regan, the president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, expressed concerns about Kaiser executives' failure to acknowledge the deterioration in patient care and the suffering of frontline healthcare staff and patients due to staffing shortages at Kaiser.

"The patient care crisis cannot be solved unless Kaiser executives follow the law, bargain with healthcare workers in good faith, and take dramatic action now to solve the crisis by investing in its workforce," Regan explained.

According to STAT News, the participating unions represent approximately 40% of Kaiser staff, including ancillary healthcare professionals like surgery, radiology, and pharmacy technicians, phlebotomists, food service personnel, security officers, respiratory therapists, and others.

The impending strike will affect over 12 million individuals served by Kaiser's network of 39 hospitals and 715 medical offices.

Key demands of the striking healthcare workers include:

  • Raising pay to match the cost of living.
  • Establishing a minimum wage of $25 per hour for all healthcare workers.
  • Address broken hiring processes to facilitate full staffing.
  • Making substantial investments in the education and training of future healthcare workers.

Meanwhile, in the realm of healthcare legislation, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee recently voted 14-7 to advance a $26 billion package aimed at enhancing access to primary care. This legislation, introduced by Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), would allocate substantial funding to support community health centers and bolster the healthcare workforce, including doctors, nurses, and dentists.

How do hospital strikes affect patients?

A systematic research review conducted in 2022 suggests that healthcare worker strikes have limited effects on patients. The authors say that most studies indicated that strike actions had neutral or mixed effects on patient morbidity.

For example, while one study reported positive outcomes, three studies documented negative consequences. However, overall, a strike's impact on patients appeared to be minimal.

Still, during the 10 days after unions give notice of an impending strike, hospitals must develop a plan to ensure patients receive appropriate care while the strike is ongoing. This may include sending patients to other facilities or rescheduling routine procedures, which may disrupt patient care to some degree.

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