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Victory for Medical Social Workers at Kaiser

Medical Social Workers who work for Kaiser in Kern County won an important victory this month that will provide far more autonomy over their schedules and stop Kaiser from trying to limit the autonomy of their colleagues throughout Southern California.

Social medicine has operated differently in Kern County, where Kaiser doesn’t operate a hospital. Since they’re not assigned to work in hospitals, medical social workers in Kern County have sometimes been pulled into more therapist-like roles, especially when understaffing is particularly bad.

Consequently, Kern medical social workers have historically had booked hourly appointments through the Kaiser call center, just like therapists. However, this practice was never compatible with the nature of their work and didn’t give them the freedom to use their clinical judgment about how much time to spend with a patient.

Medical social workers stationed at Kaiser Medical Office Buildings, have often been greatly limited in what they can do for patients in real time, because patients booked in their schedules were given priority.

With Kaiser preparing to move medical social workers back to the Medical Office Buildings after housing many elsewhere for several years, the workers filed a cease-and-desist letter informing management that they could not move forward with the change without bargaining over the impacts.

After months of impact bargaining — which delayed the move — the workers this month reached an agreement that secured open schedules and an end to the practice of booked appointments for medical social workers in Kern County.

“By recognizing our collective power and leveraging it to change a long-standing practice, we were able to advocate for open schedules and align Kern medical social workers with the rest of the region,” wrote Patty Salazar, a medical social worker and NUHW steward. “This is a win for medical social workers across Southern California because there is no longer precedent to begin this unfortunate practice in other service areas.”

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