By Mikki Fletchall, a Licensed Vocational Nurse at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Woodland Hills
When I first started working at Kaiser Permanente 12 years ago as a licensed vocational nurse, I felt confident in my employer. It exhibited a patient-first attitude and we were able to deliver quality care to our patients. I was proud of the work I did, and I never thought I would be preparing to go out on strike. That’s now my reality – beginning in October – along with more than 80,000 Kaiser Permanente employees nationwide.
When I was out and about at the park or the grocery store, people would see me wearing my Kaiser uniform and occasionally stopped me to share a story about the time when someone at Kaiser helped them or their family members get better. I believed Kaiser truly was a place where “thriving” is possible for everyone, just like Kaiser’s expensive advertising campaign promised.
Unfortunately, what drew me to Kaiser is no longer what I experience. Day after day, we are understaffed and the consequences affect our patients. Staffing concerns have gone unresolved for far too long, and leave me feeling voiceless.
What made the patient care at Kaiser so great in the past, and built its reputation, was a partnership between Kaiser workers and management. When workers are given a voice, we can create solutions to patient care, staffing and other issues. Without being heard by Kaiser, these issues continue to undermine the care patients receive.
Instead of addressing staffing and patient care issues, Kaiser is moving to a model of outsourcing and automation that removes the human touch from healthcare. No automated process can replicate the relationship we build with our patients as healthcare providers, yet it is becoming all too common in Kaiser hospitals and clinics. Patients know how critical of a role we fill, so why doesn’t Kaiser appreciate us?
One time, a patient was planning to cancel her healthcare coverage but I noticed in her medical records that she was due for a mammogram. I told her, “If you’re planning to cancel your policy you should at least get the procedure done.” As it turned out, she did have breast cancer. Today she’s getting chemotherapy. When I’m doing the workload of four people, noticing details such as this one are less likely to happen.
That’s why I am joining tens-of-thousands of fellow Kaiser caregivers in states around the country to vote “yes” to a strike. Our patients deserve the best care possible but Kaiser is making it difficult to accomplish.
The once strong partnership between Kaiser caregivers and management is now broken. Kaiser’s bad faith bargaining and unfair labor practices left us with no choice but to vote to authorize a strike.
When we strike, it will be for more than just our own interests on the job. We are also taking this step on behalf of our patients. We are asking to restore a true worker-management partnership and ensure safe staffing and compassionate use of technology. We want to build the workforce of the future to deal with major projected shortages of licensed healthcare staff in the coming years. And, we are taking a stand to protect middle-class jobs with wages and benefits that can support families.
The commitment I’m making is for my patients. It’s not a vote I wanted to take, or ever expected to take, but we are left with no choice. Kaiser’s stated mission is for its patients, workers and communities to thrive, not just survive. Now we need Kaiser to honor that pledge.
Mikki Fletchall is a Licensed Vocational Nurse at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Woodland Hills.