As the leading union representing mental health clinicians, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) is committed to holding government and healthcare corporations accountable for putting mental health care on equal footing with physical health care. Mental health parity means that patients have coverage to see caregivers and that they receive prompt, compassionate and consistent care, just as they would for a physical ailment.
That battle has not yet been won, but we have taken an important step forward this year by forging a collaborative relationship with Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit health maintenance organization.
The 3,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians we represent fought for years to have a voice in helping Kaiser provide better care and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. On Mental Health Matters Day, Janet Liang, president of the Northern California Region of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, and I published a joint column in the East Bay Times outlining how this is starting to come to fruition.
One of the most promising developments is that we have established Professional Practice Committees at more than two dozen Northern California Kaiser mental health clinics. These committees provide a structured forum for clinicians and managers to raise concerns, seek common ground and brainstorm ideas for improving care.
We don’t agree on everything, but we’re working together to help Kaiser achieve its goal of becoming the national leader in behavioral and mental health and the employer of choice for clinicians. Earlier this year, more than 250 Kaiser managers and NUHW-represented clinicians from across Northern California held an all-day summit to build a strong working relationship.
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, it’s clear there is still much work to be done to achieve parity. The Obamacare repeal passed in the House of Representatives would effectively deny mental health coverage to millions of low-income Americans. And even California is considering shifting money away from mental health care to fund other urgent needs.
NUHW will continue to fight for mental health clinicians and patients. But we are excited to begin this new collaborative relationship that hopefully will blaze a trail to mental health parity the rest of the nation can follow.
Sal Roselli is the president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents 13,000 healthcare workers including Kaiser Permanente’s 3,000 mental health clinicians in California.