The 53,000-member Alliance of Health Care Unions calls on KP to partner for solutions to halt the slide in patient care and access

LANDOVER, Md. (August 23, 2023) — A staffing crisis at Kaiser Permanente (KP) is hurting patient care and access, according to a survey of a huge cross section of KP’s own health care staff — from the registered nurses who spend more time with patients than anyone else on the care team to the lab technicians who run the tests that capture intimate details of a patient’s health profile; from the environmental services staff who clean patient rooms to the call center staff who answer their urgent calls; and many more classifications.

The Alliance of Health Care Unions (AHCU) conducted the survey this year and released the results today. AHCU represents tens of thousands of Kaiser Permanente health care workers in 21 affiliated unions, including United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 and Local 27, which represents KP staff in the greater Baltimore-Washington area.

Among the members surveyed, the responses illustrate a profound crisis for the workforce and patient care:

  • Nearly 95% reported that the staffing crisis is affecting patient care and access.
  • More than 90% said their own departments were often short-staffed.
  • 88% said the staffing crisis has increased their stress and 89% said it has negatively affected their mental health or that of their coworkers.
  • More than half said they’ve considered leaving the KP workforce due to understaffing.

“It’s embarrassing to have the same conversations with patients over and over again about how they won’t be able to be seen for months for a follow-up appointment,” said one member surveyed.

“Employees cannot take care of patients when they are burnt out and overworked,” said another survey respondent who works at KP’s Northwest DC Medical Office Building. “I continuously sacrifice my own mental and physical health to care for patients. We cannot continue to do things at the expense of the staff. These schedules are unethical and unhealthy for everyone!”

Recent research corroborates the firsthand accounts of these health care professionals. According to a study published in The American Journal of Critical Care, poor mental health of critical caregivers has been associated with declining patient care, greater patient dissatisfaction, increased number of medical errors, higher infection rates, and higher mortality rates.

The Alliance won a hard-fought battle for a new union contract in 2021 with Kaiser Permanente. A hallmark of that agreement was language requiring KP to work in close partnership with the Alliance on solutions to staffing issues across the country and at every level of the organization. But according to many union officials, the company has failed to make addressing the staffing crisis a priority.

“Our members worked heroically through a global pandemic and endured untold stress and sacrifice, in no small part due to short-staffing,” said UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici. “Now the pandemic may be behind us, but the staffing crisis is not. Kaiser Permanente management must start taking our members’ concerns seriously and partner with us to address chronic understaffing, improve patient care, and alleviate the enormous pressure on our frontline heroes.”

These recent survey results and firsthand reports from frontline health care workers come in the context of a nationwide health care staffing crisis, where average turnover costs result in hospitals losing $4.4 – $6.9 million each year—according to a report by UNAC/UHCP from last year.

“The staffing crisis is not only driving talented individuals away from the profession, it is coming at great cost to patient care and KP’s bottom line,” said UFCW Local 27 President Jason Chorpenning. “It’s time for us to work together to address this crisis.”

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The Alliance of Health Care Unions (AHCU) is a union federation of 21 local unions representing over 52,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in various roles, including registered nurses, lab technicians, environmental services technicians, healthcare professionals, call center staff, engineers, security officers, and many more, across California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Mid-Atlantic States, Colorado, and Georgia.

United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 is led by President Mark Federici and represents 35,000 members working in the grocery, retail, health care, food processing, service and other industries in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. 

United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27 represents more than 20,000 hard-working men and women in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia in grocery and retail, pharmacy, food processing, chemical processing, meatpacking, manufacturing, healthcare, cannabis, gaming, and public sectors.