By Lanette Griffin, Laboratory Technician at Kaiser Permanente
I never thought I would be preparing come October to go on strike, especially at a place like Kaiser Permanente.
During my early years working at Kaiser Permanente, it was a healthcare provider that employees were proud to work for and our patients trusted us to deliver quality care.
I saw the benefits of Kaiser caregivers having a meaningful voice on the job, one that allowed us to partner with managers and develops solutions to patient care, staffing, and other issues. We were able to advocate for our patients and provide the quality care they deserve.
My job as a Laboratory Technician brings me in close contact with patients as a draw and collect their blood samples. I like to put them at ease because drawing blood is terrifying for some people. Perhaps I’ll tell them a little joke if I sense they are nervous or find other ways to make a connection. Often just talking about their fear is all a patient needs to get past it.
That connection to the patients is critical because you never know when you might help save a life. Several years ago a patient came in with a somber face. As I prepared to draw her blood, she suddenly blurted: “I just want to go home and blow my brains out.” She said it again before revealing that she just received some bad news.
I was startled but I tried to offer some comforting thoughts to her. After she left my station, I notified my manager and asked if a counselor could check on her.
The same patient came in a week later and said to me: “You told them about what I said to you.” I nodded yes, and then, to my surprise, she thanked me with the biggest hug. It felt so good. I was able to be there when she needed help.
Kaiser Permanente has changed a lot over the years from a place where that level of personal care and follow up is possible. Now, it resembles a healthcare corporation that workers and patients might have in the past tried to avoid.
The personal connection is not so common anymore. Now Kaiser Permanente touts its touch screens instead of the human touch. Customers either spend a long time on the phone trying to schedule an appointment or waiting weeks to get in for the actual appointment. I often find seniors and non-English speakers wandering the halls because they are lost and need directions or are having trouble using the automated kiosks near the check-in desk.
Nurses, medical assistants, and technicians are all rushed and overstretched to meet the growing demand,. conditions that only further discourage patients from asking for help.
Why has Kaiser fallen so far off track? It is not for a lack of resources.
Kaiser’s CEO is making $16 million annually and another 36 Kaiser executives are paid more than $1 million a year. The corporate giant is now sitting on $35 billion in reserves, more than the combined budgets of California’s six largest cities. Kaiser made more profits in the first six months of this year than it has in an entire year, and it can afford to do right by its patients and workers.
Our once-strong partnership with Kaiser has broken down. Now Kaiser’s bad faith bargaining and unfair labor practices have forced more than 80,000 workers to the brink of a nationwide strike. If Kaiser caregivers strike, it will be for more than just our own interests. Patient care is also on the line.
That’s why we are making sure that a corporation that gets so many public benefits, like Kaiser Permanente, is holding up its end of the bargain. And we are thinking big about how a renewed partnership with Kaiser can help recruit, train and hire hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers needed in California over the next decade.
Our goal is to help patients, workers and communities thrive again, and Now we need Kaiser to join us.
Lanette Griffin is a Laboratory Technician at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in South Sacramento.