Pharmacists working at Kaiser Permanente say patient safety is being compromised and that's the number one issue that union leaders hope to resolve with management during their last official day of negotiations on Friday, May 16. Union leaders do not sound optimistic that agreements can be reached on 3 core issues and if no settlement occurs over the weekend then the Guild for Professional Pharmacists will tell its 1,400 members to strike on Monday, May 19 beginning at 7 a.m.
"Pharmacists are being pressured to fill prescriptions fast," said guild president Dr. Robin Borden, Pharm.D. "We do more than stuff pills in a bottle. We check to see the various medications a patient is taking, we review profiles for drug interactions and we counsel patients on their over-the-counter medications."
Dr. Borden said Kaiser seems more concerned with the speed that prescriptions are filled. "We want to build relationships with our patients, but we're told we're too stressed. We'd like to address the matter with a labor-management committee."
Kaiser pharmacists lost their pensions three years ago and Dr. Borden said her group is the only one among Kaiser's 180,000 employees in that situation. "We were told all employees would have pensions taken away but that has not happened and we felt we were misled. We're trying to regain equity."
She said pharmacists nearing the end of their careers don't have enough time left to make up for the deficit. Kaiser's position, according to Dr. Borden, is they can not be competitive in the marketplace if they paid the pensions.
Currently, Kaiser is not posting full-time hours and part-time employees need to be guaranteed at least 20 hours per week for benefits. Most positions are now part-time and per diem.
She said the average hourly wage is slightly higher than in the community at large but issues like having pensions frozen offset the gains.
An influx of patients is expected as the Affordable Care Act continues to be implemented and Dr. Borden said that could exacerbate the current situation for filling prescriptions. She declined to state how much full-time Kaiser pharmacists currently earn and stated that patient safety remains the priority for the guild to address with management.
"We're considered the safeguards for the industry and we want to be in the hospital pharmacies, but we have to protect our patient safety and our retirement security."
The strike will affect all 14 Kaiser medical centers covering all Southern California counties, including Kern County. The guild's website has further details regarding the issues.
An announcement on the corporate Kaiser Permanente site states that hospital and doctor appointments will continue. Patients needing prescriptions filled after May 19 are being directed to any Walgreens, Walmart, Target, CVS, Rite Aid, Ralphs, or Vons throughout Southern California, to get it filled. The usual drug copay or coinsurance for covered medications will apply.